Death Toll on U.S. Roads Rose to Almost 43,000 in 2021


May 18, 2022 – Nearly 43,000 people were killed on roads across the U.S. last year, marking the highest number in more than a decade.

The death toll jumped 10.5% from 2020 as Americans returned to driving after COVID-19 pandemic and isolation, according to The Associated Press. The increase represents the largest percentage jump in numbers since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began collecting data on road deaths in 1975.

Before 2020, the number of deaths had dropped for 3 years in a row and had been below 40,000 since 2008. The previous high – 43,500 deaths – was recorded in 2005.

“This crisis on our roads is urgent and preventable,” Steven Cliff, PhD, deputy administrator for the NHTSA, said -related crashes each increased 5%.

Risky driving behaviors led to more deaths in 2021, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association, including less frequent use of seat belts, speeding, driving while impaired by alcohol and drugs, distracted driving, and “roads designed for speed instead of safety.”

The combination “has wiped out a decade and a half of progress in reducing traffic crashes, injuries and deaths,” Russ Martin, senior director of policy and government relations for the association, said in a statement.

“This grim milestone confirms we are moving backwards when it comes to safety on our roads,” he said. “We can never accept these deaths as simply the price of mobility and convenience; most roadway deaths are preventable.”

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Transportation unveiled a national strategy to address the increase in deaths, the AP reported. During the next 2 years, the department is expected to provide federal guidance and grants under the Biden administration’s infrastructure law to encourage states and local governments to lower speed limits, embrace safer road design, and use speed cameras.

On Tuesday, the department said it had opened the first round of applications for the infrastructure program, which will spend up to $6 billion over 5 years on local efforts to curb crashes and road deaths.

The NHTSA also has pending regulations to require electronic automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection systems on all new light vehicles, the AP reported, as well as automatic emergency braking on heavy trucks.

“Our nation has taken a dangerous and deadly step backwards in traffic safety and impaired driving,” Alex Otte, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said in a statement.

“More families and more communities are feeling the crushing magnitude of this crisis on our roads,” she said.