DETROIT (AP) — Nearly 43,000 people were killed on American roads last year, the highest number in 16 years as Americans returned to the roads after the coronavirus pandemic forced many to stay at home.
The 10.5% jump from 2020 figures was the largest percentage increase since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began its fatality data collection system in 1975. The problem has been exacerbated by the persistence of risky driving behaviors during the pandemic, such as speeding and less frequent use of seat belts, as people began to venture out more in 2021 for out-of-state and out-of-state trips other road trips, analysts said.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said America faces a crisis on its roads. The safety administration has urged state and local governments, drivers and safety advocates to join in an effort to reverse the upward trend in fatalities.
“Our country has taken a dangerous and deadly step backwards when it comes to road safety and impaired driving,” said MADD National President Alex Otte, who urged strong public-private efforts similar to safety campaigns public discussion of seatbelts and air bags of the 1990s to curb recklessness. conduct. “More and more families and communities are feeling the overwhelming magnitude of this crisis on our roads.”
Preliminary figures released by the agency on Tuesday show 42,915 people died in traffic crashes last year, up from 38,824 in 2020. Final figures will be released in the fall.
Forty-four states along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico recorded an increase in road deaths in 2021 from the previous year, led by Texas, California and Florida. Wyoming, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Maryland and Maine posted declines. Rhode Island’s numbers remained unchanged.
Americans drove about 325 billion more miles last year, 11.2% more than in 2020, which contributed to the increase.
Nearly 118 people died each day in traffic accidents in the United States last year, according to agency figures. The Governors Highway Safety Association, a group of state highway safety officials, blamed the increase on dangerous behaviors such as speeding, driving while impaired by alcohol and drugs, distracted driving, as well as than “roads designed for speed rather than safety”.
The combination, the group said, “wiped out a decade and a half of progress in reducing traffic crashes, injuries and fatalities.”
Last year, fatalities rose in nearly every type of crash, NHTSA reported. Accidents on out-of-state trips jumped 15% from 2020, many of them on rural interstate roads or off-city highway access roads. Fatalities in urban areas and fatalities in collisions involving multiple vehicles each increased by 16%. Pedestrian fatalities increased by 13%.
By age, fatalities among drivers aged 65 and over increased by 14%, reversing a downward trend seen among them in 2020. Fatalities also increased among middle-aged drivers, led by those in 35 to 44 years old, which increased by 15%. Children under 16 saw the number of road deaths increase by 6%.
Per vehicle, fatalities involving at least one large truck increased by 13%, while motorcycle fatalities increased by 9% and bicycle fatalities increased by 5%. Fatalities involving speeding and fatalities in alcohol-related crashes each increased by 5%.
Government estimates show the road fatality rate has fallen slightly from 2020. Last year there were 1.33 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles travelled, down from 1.34 in 2020. The death rate rose in the first quarter of last year but fell the rest of the year, NHTSA said.
Road deaths began to rise in 2020. NHTSA blamed reckless driving behavior for increases during the pandemic, citing behavioral research showing that speeding and traveling without a seatbelt have been higher. Before 2020, the number of deaths had fallen for three consecutive years.
NHTSA Deputy Administrator Steven Cliff, the Biden administration’s nominee to lead the agency, said the roadside crisis is urgent and preventable. “We will redouble our efforts on safety, and we need everyone – state and local governments, safety advocates, automakers and drivers to join us,” Cliff said. in a press release. “All our lives depend on it.”
Buttigieg pointed to a national strategy unveiled earlier this year aimed at reversing the trend. He said earlier that over the next two years, his department will provide federal guidance as well as billions in grants under President Joe Biden’s new infrastructure law to urge states and localities to lower speed limits and to adopt safer road design such as dedicated lanes for bicycles and buses. better lighting and pedestrian crossings. The strategy also advocates the use of speed cameras, which the ministry says could provide fairer enforcement than police roadside checks.
In Tuesday’s statement, the department said it had opened its first round of applications for the program, which will spend up to $6 billion over five years on local efforts to reduce crashes and fatalities.
The Department of Transportation is moving in the right direction to stem rising fatalities, but many measures will take years to work, said Michael Brooks, acting executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety.
NHTSA, for example, has regulations pending to require electronic automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection systems on all new light-duty vehicles, and to require automatic emergency braking on heavy-duty trucks, a- he declared. Automatic emergency braking can slow or stop a vehicle if there is an object in its path.
The agency also requires automakers to install systems that alert rear passengers if their seat belts are not fastened.
“Answering that is difficult,” Brooks said. “It takes a lot of work on many different strategies to solve these problems. They have a lot of work to do. »
Yen reported from Austin, Texas.
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