Traffic Fatalities Set Records as Pandemic-Era Road Carnage Shows No Signs of Stopping

An estimated 42,915 people died in automobile crashes in 2021, according to recent federal data. The increasing fatalities continue a trend that began with the outset of the pandemic.

May 17, 2022, 11:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Traffic Safety Advocates

New Yorkers rally for slower speed limits outside Prospect Park. / Dmitry Gudkov

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released its early estimates of traffic fatalities on U.S. roads in 2021, finding a big jump in traffic jumps the year after a big jump in traffic jumps.

“NHTSA projects that an estimated 42,915 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes last year, a 10.5% increase from the 38,824 fatalities in 2020,” according to an NHTSA press release from May 17.

“The projection is the highest number of fatalities since 2005 and the largest annual percentage increase in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System’s history.”

The press release also uses the fatalities figures to remind Americans of the traffic safety programs included in the November Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).

“The [IIJA] places a strong emphasis on improving safety and includes the new Safe Streets and Roads for All program, which opened its first round of applications just this week,” according to the press release. “The program, the first of its kind, invests up to $6 billion over five years to fund local efforts to reduce roadway crashes and fatalities.”

Additional IIJA traffic safety programs include the implementation of Complete Streets policies and standards, updates to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, and increased funding for the Highway Safety Improvement Program.

More data from the report from 2021:

  • 1.33 fatalities per 100 million VMT (down from 1.34 in 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%
  • Fatalities in crashes involving at least one large truck up 13%
  • Daytime fatalities up 11%
  • Motorcyclist fatalities up 9%
  •  Bicyclist fatalities up 5% 
  • Fatalities in speeding-related crashes up 5%
  • Fatalities in police-reported, alcohol-involvement crashes up 5%

Tuesday, May 17, 2022 in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

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