The Nassau County Police responded to a report of a...

The Nassau County Police responded to a report of a serious auto accident April 23, 2024. Traffic fatalities on Long Island have spiked in recent years, according to a new state report. Credit: Jim Staubitser

Traffic fatalities rose sharply across the state between 2019 and 2022, with Long Island leading the surge, as risky behaviors such as speeding and drunken driving spiked since the pandemic, according to a new state report.

In 2022, there were 1,175 motor vehicle fatalities statewide, the highest in a decade and up nearly 26% from 2019, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Nationwide, traffic-related deaths increased nearly 17% during that period.

“Traffic fatalities in New York have grown at an alarming rate since the pandemic,” said state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli in the report he released Thursday. “While there are fewer drivers on the road and vehicle safety features have greatly improved, more fatal crashes are occurring.”

Long Island led the state with 245 traffic fatalities in 2022, including 164 in Suffolk and 81 in Nassau, the report shows. 

   WHAT TO KNOW

  • Fatal motor vehicle crashes increased almost 26% statewide between 2019 and 2022 and reached their highest levels in a decade, according to a new report from state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
  • Long Island led the surge with 243 traffic fatalities in 2022, including 162 in Suffolk County and 81 in Nassau. 
  • Suffolk also led the state in fatal crashes in 2022 involving a driver who was speeding, distracted, intoxicated and with vehicle occupants not wearing a seat belt.

Suffolk in 2022 also led the state in the number of fatal crashes involving a driver who was distracted, speeding, drunk or with occupants not wearing a seat belt, data shows.

Suffolk and Nassau ranked numbers one and two, respectively, in motor vehicle fatalities statewide every year since 2008, federal data shows.

The spike in fatalities, experts said, is linked to an increase in risky behavior since the pandemic, including speeding, running red lights, changing lanes aggressively and texting while driving.

“The roads didn't change overnight. And while vehicles are getting bigger, that's been gradual,” said Alec Slatky, managing director of public and government affairs for AAA Northeast. “What's changed drastically in the last few years has been driver behavior.”

Alcohol has played a role.

From 2019 to 2022, there was a 45% increase statewide in the number of fatalities involving drivers with a blood alcohol level above the 0.08% legal limit — 12% higher than the national average, the data shows. On Long Island, nearly 31% of traffic fatalities in 2022 involved DWI.

Most fatal crashes, the report found, occurred on expressways and freeways and often involved occupants not wearing a seat belt and motorcyclists not wearing a helmet.

In a statement, Suffolk police said they have increased enforcement at high-crash locations and target aggressive and distracted driving, the leading causes for fatal crashes.

“Suffolk County has the highest number of registered vehicles in the state, and the department remains committed to traffic safety initiatives in an effort to change driver behavior and lower the number of motor vehicle crashes,” the department said.

While the highly populated Island led the state in total traffic fatalities, on a per capita — or per person — basis, it ranked near the middle, trailing four other regions, the report shows.

The region in the northernmost part of the state had the highest per capita fatality rate, while New York City, where many residents rely on public transportation, had the lowest, the report said.

Despite the recent increase in traffic fatalities, New York ranks 11th nationwide, trailing California, Texas and Florida, the comptroller said. 

In recent years, the state Transportation Department improved signage on Long Island to prevent wrong-way driving and added pavement markings and reflectors to stop lane departures, said spokesman Stephen Canzoneri.

“We continuously review safety measures in place on all our highways on Long Island and across the state, and implement enhancements where necessary,” Canzoneri said.

A recent Newsday analysis of crash data showed traffic fatalities on the Island in 2022 reached their highest levels since 2015, as dangerous driving increased post-COVID, while at the same time police made fewer DWI arrests and issued fewer speeding tickets.

Preliminary 2023 federal data shows the trend appears to have continued — with minor declines — as there were 150 motor vehicle deaths in Suffolk and 67 in Nassau, according to the Institute for Traffic Safety Management & Research in Albany.

The increase in traffic fatalities statewide since 2019 defied other recent trends, including a 1% dip in the number of licensed drivers, a 7% drop in the number of vehicle miles traveled and a 12.5% decline in total traffic accidents, the comptroller said.

Janine Logan, traffic safety advocate at the Westbury-based New York Coalition for Transportation Safety, said the data is not surprising.

“If somebody is driving under the influence, they're more likely to have an accident; or if they're speeding, not wearing a seat belt or not paying attention to traffic safety laws,” Logan said. “Just because there's fewer cars on the road doesn't mean you'll have fewer accidents.”

Riverhead schools and armed guards . . . Giants training camp . . . Sands Point mansion  Credit: Newsday

Biden to address nation . . . Alleged home improvement scam . . . FBI raids former Hochul aide's home . . . Giants training camp

Riverhead schools and armed guards . . . Giants training camp . . . Sands Point mansion  Credit: Newsday

Biden to address nation . . . Alleged home improvement scam . . . FBI raids former Hochul aide's home . . . Giants training camp

Latest videos

SUBSCRIBE

Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months

ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME ONLINE