In the middle of last year I wrote a piece concerning higher-than-normal deaths of everybody using NH roads, including pedestrians and bicyclists. The pattern, however, didn’t continue: Here’s the year-end summary:
More motorcyclists died on New Hampshire roads in 2022 than in any year in recent memory as overall fatal traffic accidents rose sharply, but the state bucked national trends by seeing no rise in pedestrian and bicyclist deaths.
According to the New Hampshire Department of Safety, 31 operators and one passenger died in motorcycle crashes last year. That’s the highest number of deaths dating back to 2012, when the state’s current tallying system began.
The previous record year was 2019, which saw a total of 30 deaths on motorcycles, including seven people who were killed in a single horrific crash after their group was hit by a truck. On average, 25 people die on motorcycles on New Hampshire roads each year.
Fatalities from all New Hampshire highway crashes rose 20% last year to 141, resulting from 132 different fatal crashes. Both those figures are almost the highest on record; only 2018, which saw 134 people die in New Hampshire crashes, was worse.
Traffic fatalities around the country began rising at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic following years of decline, largely due to worsening driver behavior. Speeding-related fatalities increased more than 20% from 2019 to 2021, as did alcohol-related fatal crashes, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, while deaths of people not wearing seat belts increased almost that much.
The NHTSA says 42,915 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2021, a 10.5% increase from 2020 and the largest annual percentage increase since statistics began being kept in 1975. National traffic fatality data has not been released for 2022 but through September the number of deaths of American highways was almost exactly the same as it had been at that point in 2021.
Nationally, pedestrian deaths resulting from being hit by vehicles have been rising for more than a decade, from 4,109 in 2009 to 6,516 in 2020, the highest on record. National data for 2021 is not yet available.
The bulk of that rise has occurred in urban areas, attributed to factors including driver inattention due to cell phones as well as the increasing size and weight of cars and pickup trucks, which makes them more dangerous when they hit people.
Relatively rural New Hampshire has not seen such an increase. The number of pedestrians, both adult and child, killed each year has fluctuated between nine and 19 since records began in 2012, with no trend of increase or decrease, although the last two years tied the record for fewest total pedestrian deaths of any two-year period.
Deaths of bicyclists along roadways have increased nationally over the past decade, from 873 in 2011 to 1,260 in 2020, but not in New Hampshire. The state suffers one or two bicyclist deaths in most years, including two in 2022. Only one year on record, 2013, saw as many as four bicyclist deaths in the state.
The national rise in bicyclist deaths, like that of pedestrians, is largely an urban phenomenon. Some cities have begun to outlaw vehicles turning right on red lights, because that is often associated with pedestrian and bicyclist deaths as drivers look left for oncoming cars but don’t look right for people in crosswalks.
We have almost no bicycle deaths because we have almost no bicyclists. It is not that we are doing something right. Of the two regular, everyday bicyclists I would see in the Newport area, one was killed by a vehicle last year (or maybe it was in 2021) so for me, the bicycle fatality rate feels like 50%. I saw very little about that death in the news, but I still miss seeing him.