Legal Review: Estimates Show U.S. Traffic Deaths in 2021 Hit a 16-Year High

The latest data released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) paints a grim picture of U.S. roadways in 2021. The statistics show that there were more deaths on American roads last year than in any year since 2005. According to the NHTSA, an estimated 42,915 people lost their lives in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2021, a 10.5 percent increase from the previous year’s 38,824 fatalities.

The NHTSA report includes fatalities of pedestrians, cyclists, and anyone else involved in a crash. This alarming increase in traffic deaths is a cause for concern, and it highlights the need for continued efforts to improve road safety across the United States. The NHTSA recommends various measures to reduce traffic fatalities, including the use of seat belts, the prevention of impaired driving, and the enforcement of speed limits.

“As we move forward into 2023, it is crucial for everyone to prioritize road safety and do their part in reducing traffic deaths. Whether it’s driving safely, wearing a seat belt, or following traffic laws, we all have a role to play in creating safer roads for everyone,” says accident attorney Jeffrey Lowenthal of Lowenthal and Abrams Injury Attorneys.

The NHTSA also records that there has been a 16 percent increase in fatalities from multi vehicle crashes and crashes on urban roadways. The agency claims that this is the largest year-over-year increase for incident-specific data. There were other notable increases:

  • Fatalities of those aged 65 or older increased by 14 percent.
  • Pedestrian deaths increased by 13 percent.
  • Fatalities in crashes that involve at least one large truck increased by 13 percent.

What Is the Reason Behind the High Rates?

According to NHTSA estimates, traffic deaths rose in all 44 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico in 2021. These high fatalities can be linked to the increased distance covered on U.S. roadways compared with 2020. Experts believe this resulted from people traveling more after the lockdown limitations were abated.

Looking at preliminary data reported by the Federal Highway Administration, vehicle miles traveled in 2021 increased by about 325 billion miles. That is an increase of about 11.2 percent compared with 2020.

The fatality rate for 2021 is 1.33 fatalities per 100 million miles traveled. When compared with 2020, the estimate is at 1.34. But, regardless of the additional miles traveled, there were no significant changes in the fatality rate based on miles from 2020.

Reactions to the High Fatality Rates

U.S. Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg, described the issue as a crisis that Americans must face together. He also reassured that the Biden administration is taking important steps toward reversing the “devastating trends.” He referred to the National Roadway Safety Strategy, which was recently announced, and Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is aimed at improving safety. It includes the newly introduced Safe Streets and Roads for All program which invests in reducing roadway crashes and fatalities.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is currently being implemented. The law boasts of advancing Complete Streets policies and standards, updating the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, and increasing funding for the Highway Safety Improvement Program.

The NHTSA is doing its best as well to help control the issue. The agency has launched the Click It or Ticket campaign, which will work with special enforcement efforts to raise awareness about seatbelt safety. It also launched a technical assistance program to help states address the continued rise in fatalities.

NHTSA also released $740 million to fund the 402 State and Community Grant Program, Section 405 National Priority Safety Program, and Section 1906 Racial Profiling Data Collection Grants.

Will There Be Positive Trends in the Following Years?

Dr. Steven Cliff, Deputy Director of NHTSA, believes as long as safety efforts are redoubled, the current road crisis is preventable. Looking at the statistics, it is easy to be pessimistic. But, with the efforts made by the government and road agencies, things might get better in the future. As long as more actions are taken, and more awareness is made, there can be a change.

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