Traffic Fatalities Surge in California: Understanding the Numbers and Implications

Amid population shifts and changing travel patterns, California is grappling with a concerning trend: a significant surge in traffic fatalities. According to a recent report by TRIP, a national transportation research nonprofit, traffic fatalities in California increased by 22% from 2019 to 2022. That means there were 4,407 traffic deaths in 2022 compared to 3,606 in 2019.

A further look at data by the National Safety Council (NSC) reveals the upward trend has been noticeable since at least 2010. Back then, the rate of motor vehicle deaths in California per 100,000 people hit 7.8 compared to 12.7 in 2021.

Interestingly, the increase comes at the same time as the Golden State population is shrinking. U.S. Census Bureau data shows the number of residents has decreased by around 500,000 since the decline began in 2020. During that pandemic year, TRIP reports travel also slowed significantly, registering an 11% drop nationwide year over year.

Other TRIP findings include:

  • The likelihood of being killed in a traffic accident increased by 28% during 2019 and 2022.
  • Despite a 3% decrease in vehicle travel during that time frame, the number of traffic fatalities soared.
  • In 2022 alone, California recorded a total of 3,854 traffic fatalities and 165,978 traffic injuries, making it the second-ranking state in terms of total traffic fatalities, trailing only behind Texas.
  • California ranks 12th in traffic fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled.

National Traffic Fatality Trends and Comparisons

The surge in traffic fatalities is not unique to California but is part of a broader national trend. From 2019 to 2022, the TRIP report found the number of traffic fatalities across the United States increased by 19%, with the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled increasing by 22%. Bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities, which accounted for 20% of all U.S. traffic fatalities in 2022, witnessed a 19% increase during the same period.

Factors Driving the Surge:

TRIP researchers noted several factors contribute to the increase in traffic fatalities, including:

  • Risky driving behaviors: While the COVID-19 pandemic led to a significant decrease in vehicle traffic, the return to pre-pandemic traffic levels in 2022 was accompanied by a disturbing trend: Increased risks taken by drivers. Speeding, failure to wear seat belts, and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, have played a significant role in the surge in traffic fatalities.
  • Alcohol-involved crashes: The number of people killed in police-reported alcohol-involved crashes increased by 22% from 2019 to 2022.
  • Speeding-related crashes: Speeding-related traffic crashes accounted for 27% of U.S. traffic fatalities in 2022, with the number of fatalities increasing by 23% from 2019 to 2022.
  • Distraction-related crashes: Traffic fatalities in distraction-affected crashes increased by 13% from 2019 to 2021.

Lawmakers Taking Action to Curb Traffic Fatalities

To tackle the rising tide of fatal traffic accidents, California approved in October of 2023 a speed camera pilot program to begin in 2024. Stateline reports Philadelphia, for instance, saw a 50% drop in fatal accidents and an estimated 36 lives saved after implementing speed cameras on a 14-mile stretch in 2020. Critics still question that strategy, arguing that low-income drivers pay a heavier price for traffic tickets. Others, like the National Motorists Association, say red-light and speed cameras violate people’s privacy and right to due process.

Community Service

In response to these objections, California legislators compromised and enacted a bill that institutes a pilot program offering community service as an alternative to fines for low-income drivers ticketed for speeding. Additionally, camera placement will be restricted to specific streets in select cities with documented speeding problems.

The CEO of the Governors Highway Safety Association noted in Stateline, “Law enforcement has really stepped back from enforcing traffic laws. We have to get police back out there and get support for police back. But this has to be done the right way, and it has to be done fairly. And we do want to look at technology — cameras don’t see race, they don’t see gender.”

Penney & Associates Can Help

While government agencies play a crucial role in road safety, individual choices also have a significant impact. Sadly, unsafe driving behaviors like speeding, driving under the influence, and neglecting seat belts lead to countless preventable accidents and injuries each year.

At Penney & Associates, we recognize the devastating impact of traffic accidents on individuals and families. Our team of experienced trial attorneys is committed to advocating for those who have been injured or lost loved ones in traffic-related incidents. We understand the complexities of traffic accident cases and work tirelessly to ensure that our clients receive the compensation they deserve.

Contact Us

If you or a loved one has been involved in a traffic accident, it is important to seek legal guidance as soon as possible. Contact Penney & Associates today for a free consultation.

Read more:
The Alarming Rise in Bicycling Accidents: How to File a Lawsuit
Filing a Wrongful Death Claim in California: What to Keep in Mind
Product Liability Claims in California: Pursuing Compensation

* This blog is not meant to dispense legal advice and is not a comprehensive review of the facts, the law, this topic or cases related to the topic. For a full review of our disclaimer and policies, please click here.

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