An increase of 10% in 2021
Preliminary data reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicates that in 2021 nearly 42,915 people died in motor vehicle crashes nationwide.
That’s a notable 10.5 percent increase from the 38,824 fatalities in 2020, which is the largest projected percentage spike in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System’s history.
All regions of the country experienced an uptick. The region with the largest percentage change in fatalities in 2021 compared to the fatalities reported in 2020 was the Pacific Northwest region and Alaska, which saw a 19 percent increase in fatalities.
While some of that can be attributed to decreased travel by many motorists during the pandemic year of 2020, this incline has the NHTSA sounding the alarm about the rising number of traffic deaths across the country.
As its name suggests, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is primarily concerned with preventing motor vehicle traffic crashes and saving lives by reducing the threat of drunk drivers and promoting the use of safety belts, child safety seats, and airbags.
Initially created in 1970, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conducts research on driver behavior and traffic safety. In keeping with these responsibilities, the NHTSA is also investigating safety defects in motor vehicles, sharing consumer information on motor vehicle safety, and enforcing fuel economy standards.
“We face a crisis on America’s roadways that we must address together,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in a press release. “With our National Roadway Safety Strategy and the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we are taking critical steps to help reverse this devastating trend and save lives on our roadways.”
Public attitudes toward crumbling infrastructure hardened over the past decade, which has prompted renewed support for improving road safety and public transit infrastructure. Recently, the Department of Transportation announced it is accepting grant application requests to help communities improve road safety. With a $1 billion budget in the fiscal year 2022, advocates say the Bipartisan infrastructure Law’s new Safe Streets and Roads for All program will support regional and local projects aimed at preventing roadway deaths.
“This crisis on our roads is urgent and preventable,” said Dr. Steven Cliff, NHTSA’s deputy administrator. “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.”
While investigating crashes, the National Transportation Safety Board found that traffic fatalities increased across numerous categories in 2021, as compared to 2020:
.Fatalities in multi-vehicle crashes up 16%
.Fatalities on urban roads up 16%
.Fatalities among drivers 65 and older up 14%
.Pedestrian fatalities up 13%
.Daytime fatalities up 11%
.Motorcyclist fatalities up 9%
.Bicyclist fatalities up 5%
Thus, the NTSB determined specific safety improvements that can prevent crashes and save lives.
It’s important to understand what choices are contributing to the cause of numerous highway crashes. As many as one-third of all the traffic-related crash fatalities are contributed to speeding, including those who drive at the speed limit but too fast for inclement road conditions.
Besides urging drivers to follow the speed limit and reduce speed during bad weather, the NTSB recommends state legislatures amend laws to allow state and local agencies the authority to use ‘automated speed enforcement.’ In some places, it has effectively addressed safety problems. Opponents contend there are drawbacks to using cameras to measure the speed of passing cars.
The NTSB also recommends that regulators set standards for advanced speed-limiting technology for heavy vehicles. In 2021, compared to 2020, fatalities in crashes involving at least one large truck increased by 13 percent.
The Federal Highway Administration estimates that vehicle miles traveled in 2021 increased by about 325 billion miles. That represents an 11.2 percent increase, as compared to 2020.
Preventing deaths and injury crashes is also the primary concern of the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT). As of May 19, the Missouri State Highway Patrol has investigated 225 fatal highway crashes. In 16 of those crashes, a juvenile lost a life. In 2021, it is estimated that 1,016 people lost their lives in motor vehicle traffic crashes, according to the US Department of Transportation.
In essence, speeding is seen as a reflection of the rising number of fatalities. Driving the speed limit without distractions will make our roads safer, transportation officials say.
“Even one fatality is too many. This is why we recently worked with partners on “Show-Me Zero,” a strategic highway safety plan for eliminating fatalities and serious injuries on Missouri roadways. Through a collaborative effort of diverse stakeholders, Show-Me Zero takes a multi-disciplined approach to achieving safer roads through education, public policy, enforcement, engineering and emergency response. The idea is simple: no one can do everything, but everyone can do something,” says Melissa Black, communications manager for MoDOT.
Black continued: “We have four emphasis areas: 1. Buckle Up. 2. Phone down. 3. Slow down. 4. Drive sober.”
She added that during the years from 2016 to 2020, “we had 486 aggressive drivers killed in our region, 354 unbelted motorists killed, 169 motorists killed due to impaired driving, 141 non-motorized fatalities, 130 motorcycle fatalities, and 58 listed as distracted.”