U.S. Traffic Deaths Hit 16-Year High in 2021


There were 42,939 people killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes on U.S. roadways during 2021---the largest number of fatalities since 2005 and a 10% increase from 2020, according to a report released April 3 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Among the report’s key findings:

  • Fatalities and people injured increased in most categories.
  • Speeding-related fatalities increased by 7.9%, alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities increased by 14% and seat belt non-use fatalities increased by 8.1%.
  • Urban fatalities increased by 14%; rural fatalities increased by 4.7%.
  • Female fatalities increased by 12%, and male fatalities increased by 9.2%.
  • Nighttime (6 p.m. to 5:59 a.m.) fatalities increased by 11%; daytime (6 a.m. to 5:59 p.m.) traffic fatalities increased by 9.7%.
  • Forty-three states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico had increases in the number of fatalities.

The fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) increased by 2.2% from 1.34 in 2020 to 1.37 in 2021.

The estimated number of people injured on U.S. roadways increased in 2021 to 2.5 million, rising from 2.28 million in 2020, an increase of 9.%. The injury rate per 100 million VMT increased by 1.3% from 79 in 2020 to 80 in 2021.

The estimated number of police-reported traffic crashes increased from 5.25 million in 2020 to 6.10 million in 2021, a 16% increase.

Total VMT increased by 8.1% from 2,904 billion in 2020 to 3,140 billion in 2021. Overall, the monthly VMT for 2019 and 2021 are similar in pattern; the monthly VMTs for 2020 were different with vehicular travel declines in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The proportion of people killed “outside the vehicle” (motorcyclists, pedestrians, pedalcyclists and other nonoccupants) has increased from a low of 20% in 1996 to a high of 34% in 2021. Correspondingly, the proportion of people killed “inside the vehicle” (occupants of passenger cars, light trucks, large trucks, buses and other vehicles) has declined from a high of 80% in 1996 to 66% in 2021.

The number of pedestrian fatalities has been outpacing the number of motorcyclist fatalities since 2013. Both pedestrian and motorcyclist fatalities have been rapidly rising in recent years. In 2021, the number of motorcyclists killed---5,932---was the highest since the data began being tracked in 1975, and a 7.7% increase from 2020. The number of pedestrians killed in 2021---7,388---was a 13% increase from 2020.

Based on the data, NHTSA’s three major behavioral focus areas are speeding, alcohol-impaired driving and seat belt non-use. These factors explain some traffic fatality increases from 2020 to 2021, although the NHTSA cannot say they were the only ones contributing to the rise.

Source: NHTSA

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