New estimate shows road fatalities at highest level in 16 years

NHTSA noted large increases in several crash type categories

May 23, 2022 / 2 minute read
Road fatalities at highest level in 16 years

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 42,915 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2021, the highest number since 2005. This represents a 10.5 percent increase from the 38,824 fatalities in 2020.

According to the NHTSA, several crash type categories recorded relatively large increases from 2020 to 2021:

  • Fatalities in multi-vehicle crashes up 16 percent.
  • Fatalities on urban roads up 16 percent.
  • Fatalities among drivers 65 and older up 14 percent.
  • Pedestrian fatalities up 13 percent.
  • Fatalities in crashes involving at least one large truck up 13 percent.
  • Daytime fatalities up 11 percent.
  • Motorcyclist fatalities up 9 percent.
  • Bicyclist fatalities up 5 percent.
  • Fatalities in speeding-related crashes up 5 percent.
  • Fatalities in police-reported, alcohol-involvement crashes up 5 percent.

The agency's full-year estimate of 2021 traffic fatalities also provides a look at state-level fatality estimates during the pandemic. As in 2020, all 10 NHTSA regions witnessed increases in fatalities, with 44 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico projected to experience an increase in traffic deaths when compared with 2020.

“In recent years, and continuing through the pandemic, we have seen disheartening and unacceptable increases in roadway fatalities and serious injury crashes,” said Jim Tymon, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

“State departments of transportation take seriously the role they play in keeping people safe, whether traveling in a vehicle, on two wheels, or on foot – and know there is much work still to be done,” Tymon said. “AASHTO and state DOTs will continue to work with all partners to combat this unacceptable rise in fatalities by expanding efforts to address roadway fatalities and injuries in the planning, design, operation, and maintenance phases.”

When vehicle miles traveled (VMT) data collected by the Federal Highway Administration is considered, the traffic fatality rate is holding steady in comparison to previous years.

Preliminary FHWA data indicates the VMT increased in 2021 by about 325 billion miles, or 11.2 percent, as compared to 2020.

NHTSA said that mileage data puts the fatality rate for 2021 at 1.33 fatalities per 100 million VMT, down slightly from 1.34 fatalities per 100 million VMT recorded for 2020. 

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Source: AASHTO Journal

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