Last year, nearly 43,000 people were killed on American roads, the highest number in 16 years, as people returned to the roads after the pandemic forced many to stay at home.
The 10.5 percent increase over 2020 figures was the largest percentage increase since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began collecting fatality data in 1975.
America’s roads, according to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, are in crisis. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration urged state and local governments, drivers, and safety advocates to work together to reverse the rising death toll.
According to preliminary data released by the agency on Tuesday, 42,915 people died in traffic crashes last year, up from 38,824 in 2020. The final figures will be available in the fall. Americans drove approximately 325 billion miles last year, 11.2 percent more than in 2020, contributing to the increase.
According to the agency’s figures, nearly 118 people died in traffic accidents in the United States every day last year. The Governors Highway Safety Association, a group of state traffic safety officials, blamed the rise on risky behavior such as speeding, driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs, and distracted driving, as well as “roads designed for speed rather than safety.”
According to the group, the combination has “wiped out a decade and a half of progress in reducing traffic crashes, injuries, and deaths.”
According to the NHTSA, deaths in almost all types of crashes increased last year. Deaths in cities and deaths in multi-vehicle crashes both increased by 16%. Pedestrian deaths were up 13%, while fatalities among drivers 65 and older rose 14%.
Fatalities involving at least one large truck increased by 13%, while motorcycle deaths increased by 9% and bicyclist deaths increased by 5%. Deaths from speeding drivers and deaths from alcohol-related crashes both increased by 5%.
According to government estimates, the number of road deaths has decreased slightly since 2020. There were 1.33 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled last year, compared to 1.34 in 2020. According to the NHTSA, the fatality rate increased in the first quarter of last year but declined the rest of the year.
Traffic fatalities began to rise in 2019. The NHTSA has blamed increased reckless driving behavior on the pandemic, citing behavioral research that shows that speeding and driving without a seat belt have been higher. Before 2019, the number of fatalities had fallen for three straight years.
The roadway crisis, according to Deputy NHTSA Administrator Steven Cliff, the Biden administration’s nominee to lead the agency, is urgent and preventable. “We will step up our safety efforts, and we need everyone’s help — state and local governments, safety advocates, automakers, and drivers,” Cliff said in a statement. “Our entire lives depend on it.”
Buttigieg cited a national strategy announced earlier this year to reverse the trend. He previously stated that his department will provide federal guidance as well as billions of dollars in grants under President Joe Biden’s new infrastructure law over the next two years to encourage states and municipalities to lower speed limits and embrace safer road design features such as dedicated bike and bus lanes, better lighting, and crosswalks. The strategy also advocates for the use of speed cameras, which the department believes will provide more equitable enforcement than police traffic stops.
The department said in a statement on Tuesday that it had opened the first round of applications for the program, which will spend $6 billion over five years on local efforts to reduce crashes and deaths.
The Transportation Department is taking the right steps to reduce traffic fatalities, but many of them will take years to bear fruit, according to Michael Brooks, acting executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, for example, has proposed regulations requiring electronic automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection systems on all new light vehicles, as well as automatic emergency braking on heavy trucks. If a vehicle encounters an object in its path, automatic emergency braking can slow or stop it.
In addition, the agency is requiring automakers to install systems that alert rear-seat passengers if their seat belts are not buckled.
“It’s difficult to respond to this,” Brooks admitted. “Addressing these issues requires a lot of work on a lot of different strategies.” They have a lot of work ahead of them.”