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Dangerous by Design 2022 cover image.
Image credit: Smart Growth America.

Dangerous by Design 2022: traffic deaths are getting worse, especially in the Sun Belt

Smart Growth America released their annual “Dangerous by Design” report for 2022. The results show that traffic deaths continue to rise nationwide, but some places are worse than others.

You can view the complete report here.

The pandemic magnified what we’ve always known: Our nation’s streets are dangerous by design, designed primarily to move cars quickly at the expense of keeping everyone safe. The result in 2020 and 2021 was a significant increase in all traffic fatalities, even with less driving overall.

The report goes into detail about the specific factors that brought us to where we are today. It also offers guidance on what kind of changes we need to help stop the rising rate of deaths.

One interesting piece of data is the twenty most dangerous states. They’re almost all in the southern half of the country.

A map showing the top 20 most dangerous U.S. states.

This isn’t surprising. Those are the regions that saw most of their growth happen after the 1960s, when the government aggressively poured money into high-speed highways and sprawling suburban developments. That transportation design is highly dangerous, and it now dominates the Sun Belt.

To make it worse, all of these twenty states have gotten more dangerous compared to the 2011-2015 period. All of their fatality rates have risen. But that isn’t a problem exclusive to the South. Only four states in the entire country managed to lower fatalities (New York, North Dakota, Massachusetts, and Montana).

Geography isn’t the entire story. Ethnic minorities, people living in low-income communities, and the elderly are also disproportionately represented in the fatality statistics. Again, this isn’t surprising. Almost everywhere in the nation, we can see our most dangerous roads cut through the middle of low-income neighborhoods.

The full report delves more deeply into these statistics and the issues that surround them. It also has recommendations for how our governments can take action to reverse the trends. Those are easier said than done, though. The report somberly notes: “improving safety isn’t a mystery, but inertia is hard to overcome.”