2021 Traffic Fatalities: The Highest In 16 Years

Approximately 43,000 people died on American roads in 2021, according to preliminary figures released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in mid-May. These figures show a 10.5 percent jump from the previous year’s numbers, making it the highest year-to-year jump since the agency started collecting road accident data in 1975.

Surprisingly, 2020 and 2021 were the years with the least volume of cars on the road due to the stay-at-home directives issued by state governments as a measure to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

Possible Contributory Factors

The record-breaking numbers in 2020 came as a shocker to all players in the transportation sector. Most people expected road fatalities to drop with fewer cars on the road, but that was not the case. The opposite happened and repeated itself in 2021.

Surprisingly, fewer injuries occurred in 2020 than in 2019, which can only point to reckless driving such as speeding. To some drivers, open roads were an invitation to speeding they couldn’t resist. Unfortunately, accidents at high speeds have a greater chance of serious injuries or even death.

Lack of traffic rules enforcement was also a factor in increased risky behavior on the road, such as intoxicated driving, distracted driving, and failure to buckle up.

“Most drivers felt the open roadways meant an opportunity to test safety rules, says car accident attorney Amy Gaiennie. “Unfortunately for some, it cost them their lives.”

The Government Says it is a Crisis

When addressing the press after releasing the preliminary report, Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg termed the increasing traffic fatalities a crisis. According to Buttigieg, bringing an end to the crisis will require a multifaceted approach from state and local governments, law enforcement, road safety advocates and drivers.

An increase in fatalities was recorded in 42 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. 2021 had a lot more traffic than 2020. According to the preliminary reports, Americans drove over 325 billion more miles than the previous year.

But, more cars on the road don’t seem to impact car accident statistics positively. According to the Mother Against Drunk Driving (MADD), the problems of 2020, such as impaired driving, speeding, and distracted driving, seem to have spilled into 2021.

Almost All Types of Accidents Increased

Almost all types of accidents went up in 2021 compared to 2020. Some notable increases include out-of-state travel accidents increased by 15 percent, urban area fatalities and multiple-car crashes by 16 percent, accidents involving drivers over 65 by 13 percent and pedestrian deaths by 12 percent.

Also, fatalities involving at least one truck rose by 13 percent, motorcyclist deaths by 9 percent, bicyclist deaths by 5 percent, and alcohol and speeding deaths rose by 5 percent.

What the Future Holds

Secretary Buttigieg expressed optimism that the national strategy unveiled this year under President Biden’s infrastructure bill will help reverse the trend. He also reiterated the government’s commitment to providing guidance and grants to spur states and local governments to build better and safer roads under the Biden administration’s infrastructure bill.

The NHTSA has pending requirements that will require all heavy trucks leaving the production line to have an emergency braking system. If implemented, the requirements can see the rate of fatalities resulting from truck accidents decrease significantly. Besides emergency braking, automakers must also install a feature that will alert the driver or the rear-seat passenger when they fail to buckle up.

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