NHTSA: 2021 Crash Fatalities Highest in 16 Years

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 42,915 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2021, a 10.5 percent increase from the 38,824 fatalities in 2020 – the highest number of fatalities since 2005, according to preliminary agency data.

[Above photo by the Delaware DOT]

According to a statement, NHTSA said several crash type categories recorded relatively large increases in 2021 as compared to 2020:

  • Fatalities in multi-vehicle crashes up 16 percent.
  • Fatalities on urban roads up 16 percent.
  • Fatalities among drivers 65 and older up 14 percent.
  • Pedestrian fatalities up 13 percent.
  • Fatalities in crashes involving at least one large truck up 13 percent.
  • Daytime fatalities up 11 percent.
  • Motorcyclist fatalities up 9 percent.
  • Bicyclist fatalities up 5 percent.
  • Fatalities in speeding-related crashes up 5 percent.
  • Fatalities in police-reported, alcohol-involvement crashes up 5 percent.

NHTSA added that its full-year estimate of 2021 traffic fatalities also provides a look at state-level fatality estimates during the pandemic. As in 2020, all 10 NHTSA regions witnessed increases in fatalities, the agency said, with 44 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico projected to experience an increase in traffic deaths as compared to 2020.

Jim Tymon. Photo by AASHTO.

“In recent years, and continuing through the pandemic, we have seen disheartening and unacceptable increases in roadway fatalities and serious injury crashes,” noted Jim Tymon, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

“State departments of transportation take seriously the role they play in keeping people safe, whether traveling in a vehicle, on two wheels, or on foot – and know there is much work still to be done,” he said. “AASHTO and state DOTs will continue to work with all partners to combat this unacceptable rise in fatalities by expanding efforts to address roadway fatalities and injuries in the planning, design, operation, and maintenance phases.”

Meanwhile, when aligned with vehicle miles traveled or VMT data collected by the Federal Highway Administration, NHTSA noted that the traffic fatality rate is holding steady in comparison to previous years.

Preliminary FHWA data indicates that VMT increased in 2021 by about 325 billion miles, or 11.2 percent, as compared to 2020.

NHTSA said that mileage data puts the fatality rate for 2021 at 1.33 fatalities per 100 million VMT, down slightly from 1.34 fatalities per 100 million VMT recorded for 2020. While the fatality rate continued to rise in the first quarter of 2021, NHTSA said it declined in the other three quarters of 2021 compared to the same quarters in 2020.

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