Roadway deaths in the U.S. are mounting despite government test data showing vehicles have been getting safer. While the number of all car-related fatalities has trended upward over the last decade, the sharpest rise has been among pedestrians and cyclists.
The U.S. first began crash testing cars in the 1970s, and it implemented the 5-star rating system in 1993. In 2006, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began requiring window labels on new vehicles to include those ratings.
Thanks to vehicle improvements, seatbelt laws and other changes, fatal crashes in the U.S. trended downward for decades, hitting a low of 29,867 in 2011. But that trend has reversed. Government estimates of fatal crashes in 2022 show a 43% increase to 42,795 — partially thanks to increases in speeding and drunk driving and decreases in seatbelt use. Fatal crashes also increased as a percent of total miles driven. Pedestrian and cyclist deaths increased by 64% since 2011, to an estimated 8,413 in 2022.
This coincides with a steep increase in sales of SUVs, pickup trucks and vans, which are more likely to kill or seriously injure a pedestrian when involved in a crash. Sales of those vehicles accounted for 78% of new U.S. vehicle sales in 2022, according to Motorintelligence.com.
Current U.S. ratings only consider the safety of the people inside the vehicle. The National Association of City Transportation Officials is leading an effort asking U.S. transportation officials to begin factoring the safety of those outside of vehicles into their 5-star safety ratings.