According to the NHTSA, 2021 set a 16-year record for road accident fatalities, with 42,915 deaths. This number represented a 10.5 percent increase from the 2020 numbers and set a 15-year record at 38,824 deaths.
The 10.5 percent increase also represented the highest year-to-year increase since the NHTSA started collecting road fatality data in 1975.
2020 Habits Spilling Over
In 2020, the roads were largely empty as most people stayed home at the height of the pandemic. According to experts, the empty roads became an invitation for speeding and reckless driving. Even enforcement of traffic rules was not at its best as the police avoided person-to-person contact, which encouraged more people to engage in reckless behavior on the road, such as DUI and failure to buckle up.
The circumstances were relatively different in 2021. More people were venturing out for out-of-state road trips and returning to work as businesses reopened. But habits learned in 2020 spilled over to 2021. “It is surprising how so much can be lost in such a short time. This country had made several strides but seemed to be taking steps back in road safety,” says car accident lawyer Kenneth J. LaDuca .
What the Report Shows
The NHTSA report showed increased deaths in almost all types of accidents compared to 2020. Out-of-state crashes increased 15 percent, with many happening on rural interstate roads and off-city highways. Multi-vehicle crashes in urban areas rose by 16 percent and pedestrian deaths by 13 percent.
Fatalities involving older drivers aged 65 and above rose by 14 percent, reversing a trend of decline for road fatalities for this group recorded the previous year. Deaths among drivers aged 35-44 also saw a 15 percent increase, and deaths for kids under 16 increased by 6 percent.
In terms of vehicle type, truck accidents were up 13 percent. Motorcyclists’ and cyclists’ fatalities were up 9 and 5 percent, respectively. Fatalities involving speeding and DUI-related deaths also increased by 5 percent.
Fatality Rate Lower Than 2020
Even with 2021 numbers reaching a 16-year record, the fatality rate was slightly lower than in 2020 based on miles traveled. In 2021 the fatality rate was at 1.33 deaths per 100 million miles traveled, 0.01 points lower than in 2020, with a fatality rate of 1.34.
Before 2020, fatalities on the road had declined for three straight years. According to the NHTSA, behavioral change during the pandemic is to blame for the current trends in road accident fatalities.
Federal Government’s Commitment
According to Pete Buttigieg, United States Secretary of Transportation, the federal government is committed to reversing these trends, pointing to the national strategy unveiled earlier in the year. He also depressed his department’s commitment to providing guidance and billions in grants to states under the Biden administration infrastructure bill.
According to Secretary Buttigieg, the grants will help states improve road safety by embracing safer road designs and improving existing safety strategies. He also stressed the need for embracing technology in the states’ efforts to curb speeding by installing speed cameras that can catch offenders better than the police.
The NHTSA is also looking at other approaches to help curb road accidents, including requiring all new light vehicles to have electronic automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection systems. Besides emergency braking, the system also looks to have all new cars have alert systems that notify the driver when rear seating passengers are not buckled up.