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U.S. Road Deaths Soar to Highest Level Since 2005

U.S. traffic deaths jumped 10.5% to 42,915 in 2021, up from 38,824 in 2020, according to a preliminary estimate released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
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u.s. road deaths soar to highest since 2005

U.S. traffic deaths jumped 10.5% to 42,915 in 2021, up from 38,824 in 2020, according to a preliminary estimate released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on Tuesday. This number represents the highest number of fatalities on American roads in a single year since 2005.

The estimate provides a breakdown of the number of fatalities by state and indicates that all 10 NHTSA regions are estimated to see increases in road deaths. Forty-four states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are all projected to have recorded an increase in traffic deaths compared to 2020. 

Data reported show that vehicle miles traveled in 2021 increased by about 325 billion miles, or about 11.2%, as compared to 2020, as states began to reopen and people began to travel more.

Data estimates show the fatality rate for 2021 was 1.33 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT), marginally down from 1.34 fatalities in 2020.

“We face a crisis on America's roadways that we must address together," said U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

Additionally, traffic fatalities in the following categories showed relatively large increases in 2021, as compared to 2020: 

  • 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% 

In response to the upcoming data, Buttigieg announced the Biden administration is providing $5 billion in federal aid to cities and localities to help slow down cars, carve out bike paths, widen sidewalks and nudge commuters to public transit. This is in addition to a USDOT national strategy released in January designed to stem the record increases in road fatalities with a “safe system" approach that promotes better road design, lower speed limits and tougher car safety regulations.

“We face a national crisis of fatalities and serious injuries on our roadways, and these tragedies are preventable—so as a nation we must work urgently and collaboratively to save lives," Buttigieg said. “We have become far too accustomed to the loss of life and serious injuries happening on our roadways."

“I'm convinced that we can use this moment, this urgent and troubling moment, as a pivot point," Buttigieg said. “We are out to fund whatever is going to go most directly toward reducing crashes and saving lives so we can change the trajectory of road safety in this decade."

Olivia Overman is IA content editor.