Illinois traffic deaths decreased slightly in 2022, but still above pre-pandemic levels: 'Not a cause for celebration.'

The number of people killed on Illinois highways decreased slightly last year compared to 2021, but experts say safety improvements are still needed as deaths remain above pre-pandemic levels.

The number of deaths in Illinois fell from 1,334 in 2021 to 1,280 in 2022, which represents a 4% drop, according to estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

But Kavi Bhalla, a University of Chicago professor who researches road safety, said the figure did not represent a significant decline.

“The number of road deaths in Illinois has increased dramatically during the pandemic,” Bhalla said by email. “Deaths have decreased very little this year. That's no reason to celebrate.”

In 2019, Illinois saw 1,009 traffic deaths, according to the NHTSA. That number jumped to 1,194 in 2020. In 2018, 1,035 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the state, and 1,097 in 2017.

Dave Simmons, executive director of Ride Illinois, a cycling advocacy organization, said the slight reduction in deaths in 2022 was encouraging, “but the number of people dying on our country's roads is still very high.”

“Fewer people are being injured or killed on Illinois' famous, but nothing to celebrate, streets,” Simmons continued, adding that the decline can probably be attributed to the adoption of federal programs such as Safe Streets and Roads for All.

The program funds regional and local initiatives through grants to prevent road deaths and serious injuries.

Simmons hopes Chicago can provide money for the Department of Transportation's Complete Road vision, which aims to design and build roads with safe access for all users.

His group is urging the US Department of Transportation and the Illinois Department of Transportation, “cities and other decision makers to invest heavily in Complete Roads and safe infrastructure for vulnerable road users to ensure that recent trends continue,” Simmons said.

The other states surrounding the Great Lakes are also projected to record reduced deaths in 2022 compared to 2021. Minnesota saw the largest decline at 6.1%, followed by Ohio at 5.6%, Wisconsin at 2.9% and Michigan at 0. 3%.

But in Indiana, traffic fatalities increased 2.5% last year compared to 2021, the NHTSA said. Overall, the Great Lakes region saw a 3% reduction in traffic fatalities.

An estimated 42,795 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the US last year, down 0.3% from 42,939 killed in 2021, the highest number in 16 years, said the NHTSA, adding that speeding and distracted or distracted driving were on the rise.

Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg, whose department includes the NHTSA, said the country was still facing a “national crisis” of traffic deaths.

The department has adopted strategies to reduce deaths, including more than $800 million in grants to assist communities with projects in areas with high accident rates, the NHTSA said.

Estimates from agencies are generally close to the final figures, which for 2022 will be released next spring.

Data shows a 12% increase in fatal accidents involving at least one distracted driver, with 3,522 people killed. That prompted the agency to begin a $5 million ad campaign in an effort to keep drivers focused on the road. Agency officials said such cases likely went unreported by the police.

People are driving more as the coronavirus pandemic wanes, with miles driven increasing by nearly 1% over the course of 2021, the NHTSA says.