Traffic deaths in the US are the highest in 16 years

Nearly 43,000 people died in car crashes in 2021 in this country, a 10.5% increase from the 38,824 lives lost in 2020. That’s an average of nearly 120 deaths per day. Those numbers represent the highest number of deaths since 2005 and the largest annual percentage increase in the nearly five-decade history of the Death Analysis Reporting System.

Those are the main findings of new estimates of deaths from crashes from last year released Tuesday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

“We face a crisis on America’s highways that we must address together,” US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement. “With our National Highway Safety Strategy and the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, we are taking critical steps to help reverse this devastating trend and save lives on our roadways.”

Earlier this year, Mr. Buttigieg announced the details of the first-ever National Highway Traffic Safety Strategy (NRSS), a roadmap for addressing the sobering rise in fatalities that Vision Zero embraces. or the safe system approach to road safety and design that takes human error into account. into account, first put into effect in Sweden in the 1990s. The goal is to eliminate all deaths and serious injuries on the roads by creating multiple layers of protection (safer roads, safer people, safer vehicles). , safer speeds, and better post-crash care), so that if one fails, the others will create a safety net to lessen the impact of a crash.

The national initiative is currently receiving funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act. Some key actions include: modernizing federal regulations for street design by updating the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which defines speeds, lane markings, traffic signals and more on most highways in the country; Leverage technology to improve motor vehicle safety, such as developing standards for automatic emergency braking and automatic emergency braking for pedestrians; update the rating system for the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP); and provide technical assistance to communities.

Early estimates from the federal agency showed large increases in traffic fatalities in 2021 compared to 2020 in several categories:

  • pedestrian crashes (up to 13%)
  • Multiple vehicle crashes (up to 16%)
  • Accidents on urban roads (up to 16%)
  • accidents among drivers aged 65 or over (14% more)
  • daytime accidents (11% more)
  • Motorcycle crashes (up to 9%)
  • Bicyclist crashes (up to 5%)
  • Speeding-related crashes (up to 5%)
  • Alcohol-related accidents (up to 5%)

“An increase in dangerous driving (speeding, distracted driving, driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol, not wearing a seat belt) during the pandemic, combined with roads designed for speed rather than safety, has ended a decade and a half of progress in reducing traffic crashes, injuries and fatalities,” Russ Martin, senior director of policy and government relations for the Governors Highway Safety Association, said in a statement. “This grim milestone confirms that we are going backwards when it comes to safety on our roads.”

He called the Department of Transportation’s new National Highway Safety Strategy “a bold plan,” but it would take extensive collaboration, including with the public, to reach the goal of zero traffic deaths.

Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said in a statement that the “appalling spike in car crash fatalities” could be reversed and lives could be saved if proven action is taken at both the national and state levels.

Measures that could end “the deadly trend” include: improving performance standards for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS); requiring certain crash-avoidance technologies in all new vehicles; upgraded adaptive beam headlights, hoods and bumpers; addressing speed; and improve the safety of commercial motor vehicles. Hundreds of life-saving traffic laws that the safety group recommended states pass were detailed in its 19th Annual Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws, released earlier this year.

These and other actions are essential, Chase added, and “will make our roads less deadly for everyone.”

NHTSA deputy administrator Steven Cliff said in a statement that the crisis on the nation’s highways is both urgent and preventable. “We will redouble our safety efforts and we need everyone – state and local governments, safety advocates, automakers and drivers – to join us. All of our lives depend on it.”

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