Traffic deaths in the United States continue to spike, as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated Tuesday that there were 42,915 such fatalities in 2021. That would be the most traffic deaths in 16 years, NHTSA said.
Estimated deaths increased 10.5% from 2020, but the number of deaths per mile is estimated to have declined marginally in 2021.
The largest increases in deaths were reported in multi-vehicle crashes (16%), on urban roads (16%), on rural interstate roads (15%), and among pedestrians (13%).
Roadways have been deadlier since the pandemic emerged in 2020. The United States saw the largest increase on record in deaths per mile during 2020. Other developed nations haven’t seen a similar jump in traffic violence, safety experts have said.
“We face a crisis on America’s roadways that we must address together,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement Tuesday.
The Department of Transportation responded to the ongoing crisis earlier this year with the release of its National Roadway Safety Strategy. The strategy relies on a “safe systems” model, emphasizing the responsibility of all actors in the system, including the engineers who design the roads themselves. US road design has long prioritized moving vehicles at high speeds over ensuring safety and usability for all, including pedestrians.
Pedestrian and bicyclist deaths have increased in recent years, as well as hit-and-run fatalities.
NHTSA plans to propose changes to its new car assessment program that may emphasize safety features that protect people both inside and outside vehicles. Traditionally, auto safety has focused on persons inside vehicles. NHTSA has said it’ll develop rules for automatic emergency braking for pedestrians on new passenger vehicles.
In light of Tuesday’s news, safety advocates renewed their calls for other changes, including creating standards for driver-assist systems, adaptive headlights, impaired driving prevention technology as well as improving hood and bumper standards.
“We continue to urge our nation’s leaders to take immediate action on readily available solutions to stop this anguish and agony,” Cathy Chase, president of the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said in a statement.