An estimated 31,720 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes from January through September 2021, an increase of approximately 12% from the 28,325 fatalities projected in the first nine months of 2020.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released the latest figures on Jan. 31.
The projection is the highest number of fatalities during the first nine months of any year since 2006 and the highest percentage increase during the first nine months in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System’s (FARS) history.
The early estimate report also provides the first look at state-level traffic fatality estimates during the pandemic. Compared to 2020, NHTSA projects that during the first nine months of 2021, fatalities increased in 38 states, remained flat in two states, and decreased in 10 states and the District of Columbia.
Roadway safety has worsened nationwide during the COVID-19 pandemic and shows no signs of improvement, experts say.
That is why the newly released U.S. DOT National Roadway Safety Strategy (NRSS) — which launched just days before the fatality figures were announced — is so imperative. The NRSS takes a Safe System approach to stemming the tide of unsafe driving behaviors — speeding, impaired and distracted driving, lack of seat belt compliance — that are claiming lives every day on the nation’s roadways.
Several agencies and safety advocates weighed in with comments about the rising fatality figures and measures stakeholders can take to contribute to moving the needle in reducing roadway deaths.
For example, leadership at the National Transportation Safety Board said it is again calling on stakeholders at all levels to act immediately by adopting the Safe System Approach, which is designed to save live and prevent injuries on the nation’s highways and byways.
For its part, the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA) has provided a guide on how behavioral roadway safety programs fit into the Safe System approach and how its members, the State Highway Safety Offices (SHSOs), can further collaborate with those responsible for safer roads, vehicles, and crash response.
The GHSA also plans to hold a webinar on Feb. 10, at 2 p.m. ET, “Expanding Our Reach: The Role of State Highway Safety Offices in the Safe System Approach.” Panelists from the California Office of Traffic Safety, North Carolina Governor’s Highway Safety Program, and Safe Kids Worldwide will join with GHSA to discuss the NRSS and how to ensure the widespread implementation of safety programs in all communities.