In 2021, more than 46,000 people lost their lives on U.S. highways and byways — some 9% more fatalities than in 2020, according to preliminary estimates just released by the National Safety Council (NSC).
At the same time, miles traveled in 2021 rebounded some 11% over 2020, which was a recent low for miles traveled, and only lags behind 2019 miles traveled by 1%.
With the number of vehicles on U.S. roads increasing to pre-pandemic rates, as well as the number of preventable deaths climbing across the country, NSC estimates the death rate in 2021 exceeds the rate in 2019 by an alarming 19% at 1.43 deaths per 100 million miles traveled.
The good news, says the NSC, is that federal leaders are keenly focused on mobility safety. The organization points to the passage of the Biden administration’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act as well as the more recent 2022 release of the Department of Transportation’s National Roadway Safety Strategy as two important steps toward improving roadway safety.
For example, certain provisions within the Infrastructure Act reflect the Road to Zero report led and issued by NSC in 2018. It calls on policymakers and all stakeholders to follow its three pillars for roadway safety: double down on what works, advance technology, and prioritize safety with a Safe System approach.
The ultimate goal of federal leadership and the NSC is zero traffic deaths. Decision-makers at the federal, state, and local levels must continue to set the nation on that path through a myriad of measures. These include the equitable implementation of roadway safety laws and policies, better impaired driving countermeasures, improved employer-sponsored safe driving policies and training, a comprehensive approach to speed management including lowering speed limits, and new programs to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety, to name a few.
The National Safety Council has calculated traffic fatality estimates since 1913.