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NHTSA Fatality Report Finds 16-Year High in Traffic Fatalities

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released an early estimate of traffic fatalities for 2021, projecting that 42,915 people died in motor vehicle crashes last year, a 10.5 percent increase from the year before.

However, the preliminary data indicates that vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in 2021 increased by about 325 billion miles, or 11.2 percent compared to 2020, when the pandemic forced much of the nation to stay indoors. The data estimates that the fatality rate for 2021 was 1.33 fatalities per 100 million VMT, which was slightly down from the 1.34 fatalities in 2020.

The projection for 2021, according to NHTSA, is reportedly the highest number of fatalities since 2005 and the largest annual percentage increase in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System’s history.

“Behind each of these numbers is a life tragically lost, and a family left behind,” NHTSA stated via a press release.

National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy said that she is outraged by the “needless deaths.”

Traffic Fatalities by Category Compared to 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%

“Those victims are mothers and fathers, children and grandparents, friends, and coworkers,” she continued. “They are also often the most vulnerable among us. Where is our collective outrage over these deaths? Zero fatalities is our goal!”

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg added, “We face a crisis on America’s roadways that we must address together. With our National Roadway Safety Strategy and the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we are taking critical steps to help reverse this devastating trend and save lives on our roadways.”

The law places a strong emphasis in improving safety, including the Safe Streets and Roads for All Program. The program will invest up to $6 billion over five years to fund local efforts to reduce roadway crashes and fatalities.

“This crisis on our roads is urgent and preventable,” said Dr. Steven Cliff, NHTSA’s deputy administrator. “We will redouble our safety efforts, and we need everyone – state and local governments, safety advocates, automakers, and drivers – to join us. All of our lives depend on it.”

School Transportation News reported on several school bus crashes resulting in fatalities in 2021. For instance in October a New Jersey school bus driver was killed after a three-vehicle crash. Then, in November, a 14-year-old student passenger and a 31-year-old school bus driver were killed in a school bus and tractor-trailer crash in Pennsylvania.

Also in November, a school bus driver for Henderson County Public Schools in North Carolina was killed after the school bus flipped over. Students were on board, but uninjured.


Related: Connecticut School Bus Involved in a Serious Crash
Related: Watch: Kentucky District Superintendent Recognizes Community Heroes in School Bus Crash
Related: Texas School Bus Aide Killed in Rollover Crash
Related: NTSB Currently Investigating Three School District Related Crashes


Homendy added that the NTSB knows the necessary solutions after investigating countless crashes, issuing thousands of recommendations, and identifying the data-driver approaches to make the nation’s roads safer to prevent deaths and injuries.

“We don’t need more guidance, we don’t need pilot programs, we need action,” she said. “Action by regulators. Action by lawmakers and states. Action by manufacturers. Action by road designers and engineers. Action by all road users. We need to adopt the Safe System Approach and share the responsibility for safety.”

The Safe System Approach includes: Safe Speeds, Safe Vehicles, Safe Roads, Safe Road Users and Postcrash Care. The NTSB has more information and webinars on its Safe System Approach on its website. 

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