TOPEKA — The number of traffic deaths on Kansas backroads, streets and highways increased in the decade from 2013 to 2023 despite three consecutive annual reductions that cut fatalities below 400 for the first time since 2015.

State and federal transportation reports and an assessment by TRIP, a nonprofit organization researching and distributing data on transportation issues, said traffic fatalities in Kansas expanded 11% during the 10-year period. The peak in Kansas fatalities during the decade was 461 deaths in 2017, which fell within the boundaries of a seven-year stretch in which the state averaged 423 traffic deaths per year.

Reports showed roadway deaths in Kansas diminished 8% from 2021 to 2023, culminating with 388 fatalities in 2023. That figure more closely resembled a three-year period marked by 350 fatalities in 2013, 385 in 2014 and 355 in 2015.

Gov. Laura Kelly celebrated the decline and argued public investment in transportation safety projects had delivered dividends. The Kansas Department of Transportation said wearing a seatbelt — a primary driving offense since 2010 — improved crash survivability by more than 45%.

“Safe roads save lives,” Kelly said in a statement. “We must all do our part to reduce traffic fatalities. I encourage all Kansans to buckle up, follow posted speed limits, avoid distractions and drive sober.”

TRIP, the transportation policy organization in Washington, D.C., said U.S. traffic fatalities declined in 2022 and 2023, but remained 25% higher than a decade ago. In 2020 and 2021, traffic deaths across the country escalated during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found drivers engaged in riskier behavior, including speeding, failure to wear seat belts and driving under the influence after the declaration of the public health emergency.

Bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities accounted for 21% of all U.S. traffic fatalities in 2023. From 2018 to 2023, the number of pedestrians killed increased 16% to 7,522 and the number of cyclists who died expanded 29% to 1,105. Motorcycle fatalities grew by 16% of the national total to 6,364 in 2023.

“Ensuring safety on our nation’s roadways is a collective effort involving everyone from drivers to government entities that finance road improvements, as well as manufacturers, contractors and innovators,” said Mike Hare, board chairman of the American Traffic Safety Services Association.

TRIP said crashes in U.S. highway work zones resulted in 4,316 fatalities from 2018 to 2022, which reflected an increase of 18% from 756 in 2018 to 891 in 2022.

In Kansas, highway work zone accidents resulted in 32 fatalities from 2018 to 2022. In the same five-year period, Missouri recorded 99 such deaths, Oklahoma reported 93 and Nebraska had 35.

“Distracted driving is an increasing factor in work zone crashes,” said Michael White, executive director of the Kansas Contractors Association. “That’s why 38 other states have taken action to make their roadways safer with hands-free legislation.”

The Kansas House approved a bill during the 2024 session that would have prohibited drivers under age 18 from using a mobile telephone while behind the wheel and would have banned anyone operating a vehicle to use a cellphone in a school or construction zone. The Kansas Senate didn’t act on the bill.

“We applaud the Kansas House for taking the first step this year,” White said. “We’re looking forward to working with the Kansas Senate to move this issue forward next year so that Kansans aren’t left behind on this important safety front.”