US traffic fatalities highest in 16 years as nearly 43,000 people died on roads in 2021
Tom Krisher and Hope Yen
DETROIT – Nearly 43,000 people were killed on U.S. roads last year, the highest number in 16 years as Americans returned to their cars after the coronavirus pandemic forced many to stay at home.
The 10.5% jump over 2020 numbers was the largest percentage increase since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began its fatality data collection system in 1975. Exacerbating the problem was a 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 other road trips, analysts said.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said America faces a crisis on its roads. The safety administration urged state and local governments, drivers and safety advocates to join in an effort to reverse the trend.
“Our nation has taken a dangerous and deadly step backwards in traffic safety and impaired driving,” said MADD National President Alex Otte, who urged strong public-private efforts akin to the seat belt and air bag public safety campaigns of the 1990s to stem reckless driving. “More families and more communities are feeling the crushing magnitude of this crisis on our roads.”
Preliminary figures released Tuesday by the agency show that 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 as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico had increases in traffic deaths in 2021 compared with the previous year, led by Texas, California and Florida. Posting declines were Wyoming, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Maryland and Maine. Rhode Island’s figures were unchanged.
Americans drove about 325 billion more miles last year, 11.2% higher than in 2020, which contribut