State traffic fatalities decreased between 2020 and 2021

Rhode Island had fewest pedestrian deaths, according to national report

By: - April 7, 2023 5:00 am

Skid marks are shown on the pavement of Route 95 South in Warwick. (Photo by Janine Weisman/Rhode Island Current)

Traffic fatalities are on the rise across the nation, but not in Rhode Island.

The Ocean State saw a 6% decrease in traffic deaths between 2020 and 2021, according to a new report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This contrasts national trends, which saw total fatalities rise 10% during the reporting period.

The report ranks the states by examining fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. 

Data shows that 63 Rhode Island motorists died in 2021, compared with 67 in 2020. Of these fatalities, 24 were a result of alcohol-impaired driving in 2021, compared with 28 the previous year, representing a 14% decrease.

The most significant decrease Rhode Island saw was with pedestrian deaths. Fatalities fell by 59%, with seven deaths in 2021, compared with 17 in 2020. 

No state had fewer pedestrian deaths than Rhode Island, according to the report.

Diana Gugliotta, director of public affairs for AAA Northeast, said a big reason for this decrease has been through public outreach and the creation of more pedestrian-friendly zones during the COVID-19 pandemic.

One project she highlighted was the closure of certain streets to allow kids to have more space to play outdoors or ride their bikes.

“Projects like that, especially in the inner city, made a real difference,” Gugliotta said.

Another reason for so few pedestrian fatalities, Gugliotta said, is thanks to Rhode Island’s layout or curvy roads, different pavements, and one-way streets.

“It doesn’t give vehicles the opportunity to speed as much as they would be able to on flat infrastructure that’s laid out in a grid pattern,” she said.

Data for 2022 is still being finalized by the NHTSA, though preliminary data looking between January and September show Rhode Island as having the lowest fatality rate in the country.

In a statement, Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) Director Peter Alviti Jr. said the reports “show the product of our hard work to make roads safer and influence driver behavior, particularly when it comes to driving impaired.”

He cited investments in engineering, education, and enforcement solutions.

This includes $2 million in annual funding toward public service messages, including RIDOT’s Ripple Effect series. The campaign showcases the “ripples” caused by an impaired driving crashes and the effects it can have on not only the driver and the victim, but families, friends, co-workers, and first responders. 

In 2021, the Rhode Island State Police’s Traffic Safety Unit arrested 451 drivers for impaired driving, according to its annual report — nearly 60% of all traffic based arrests.

Driving while impaired and mixing alcohol and drugs, can make a motorist 200 times more likely to get in a crash compared to a sober driver, according to RIDOT.

RIDOT also funds $2 million each year to a dedicated State Police impaired driving task force. 

Nearly 1,700 people have been arrested by this task force over the past three years, the department notes. More than 950 motorists were charged with impaired driving and officers issued more than 13,000 citations worth $1.6 million.

RIDOT also notes that it annually spends $14 toward engineered safety improvements including new traffic signals, pedestrian crossing signals with flashing beacons, guardrail, signage and striping.

“Together, these efforts did precisely what they were designed to do — save lives,” Alviti said.


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Christopher Shea
Christopher Shea

Christopher Shea covers politics, the criminal justice system and transportation for the Rhode Island Current.