“We must address the tragic loss of life we saw on the roads in 2020 by taking a transformational and collaborative approach to safety,” said acting administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Steven Cliff.
His statement comes as new data estimates released in early September depict 8,730 car crash deaths occurring in 2021’s first quarter–an increase from the 7,900 deaths reported in the same period of time in 2020.
“These early estimates suggest the driving patterns and behaviors the agency reported 2020–which changed significantly from previous years–continue to prevail and that drivers who remained on the roads engaged in more risky behavior,” explained the NHTSA.
According to the agency, overall traffic deaths rose by 10.5% in 2021’s first three months, although the number of drivers on American roads decreased. The pandemic may have brought about fewer cars on the road, but dangerous behaviors, including speeding, saw a sharp increase during that time–and clearly, they continue to do so.
In fact, overall driving numbers dropped by around 14.9 billion miles–around 2.1%–as shown in preliminary Federal Highway Administration data, but the number of fatalities per 100 million vehicle-miles traveled rose to 1.26 in the beginning of 2021. This is an increase of 0.14 from the same period in 2020.
These numbers point to risky behaviors like driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, failing to wear seat belts, or excessive speeding–things that quickly become more common while roads began clearing up with fewer drivers having to make daily commutes.
“Everyone–including those who design, operate, build, and use the road system–shares responsibility for road safety,” Cliff added. “We are working closely with our safety partners to address risky driving behaviors such as speeding, impaired driving, and failing to buckle up.”
NHTSA’s report doesn’t portray truck-involved deaths specifically, but the number of truck fatalities is included in the figures depicting overall traffic statistics. Early estimates in 2020 showed that although traffic fatalities may have risen by 7%, truck-involved crash deaths themselves did drop by 2%.
“The stay-at-home orders started in mid-March 2020, followed by the first full month of stay-at-home measures that were in effect during April,” explained NHTSA in its report. “During May [of 2020], some states began to reopen in some way while almost all states partially reopened by June. After June, each state continued to adapt [its] local and statewide COVID-19 guidelines and assess specific reopening and potential re-closing efforts accordingly.”
Quarterly estimations of fatality rates and vehicle-miles traveled are divided into monthly estimates for 2020 and 2021 in order to determine the overall crash-related effects of the pandemic era, NHTSA explained.
In 2020, overall vehicle-miles traveled dropped by 13.2%, or 430.2 billion miles, although the fatality rate for that year was 1.37 fatalities per 100 million vehicle-miles traveled (an increase from 2019’s 1.11 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled).
“While Americans drive less in 2020 due the pandemic, NHTSA’s early estimates show that an estimated 38,680 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes–the largest projected number of fatalities since 2007,” said the agency in its report.
Because of the apparent rapid increase in reckless driving and its impacts, this year’s Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance’s Operation Safe Driver Week focused on speeding, despite overall traffic decreasing throughout the entirety of the pandemic. 2020’s road death rate rose by 24% from the year prior, although miles drive fell by 13%, according to preliminary estimates by the National Safety Council. Additionally, this death rate increase is estimated to be the highest year-over-year spike calculated by the council in nearly a century.
“The surge in motor vehicle crash fatalities must serve as an urgent call to action for Congress and the Biden administration,” said Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety president, Cathy Chase. “Requirements and performance standards for proven vehicle safety technology could be saving tens of thousands of lives each year. The needless deaths on our roads must–and can–be stopped.”