NSC: Motor vehicle deaths continue to climb as traffic returns to pre-pandemic levels

car on the road
Photo: Rostislav_Sedlacek/iStockphoto

Itasca, IL — An estimated 46,020 people were killed in motor vehicle-related crashes last year, the highest preliminary estimate issued by the National Safety Council since 2005.

The estimate represents an 8.7% jump from the 2020 total of 42,339 and a 17.7% spike from the 2019 total of 39,107. This comes as miles traveled rebounded 11% from 2020 lows and lags miles traveled in 2019 by 1%. With the number of vehicles on U.S. roads increasing to pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels, as well as the number of preventable deaths climbing across the country, the council estimates last year’s death rate exceeds the 2019 rate by 19%, at slightly more than 1.4 deaths per 100 million miles traveled.

“This devastating news serves as yet another wake-up call for this country,” NSC President and CEO Lorraine M. Martin said. “We are failing each other, and we must act to prioritize safety for all road users. One life lost in a preventable crash is tragic enough, and more than 46,000 in one year is unacceptable. NSC is more committed than ever to its partnership with the Department of Transportation and commends the much-needed action recently taken by the federal government to save lives.”

That includes the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, signed by President Joe Biden in November, along with the release of DOT’s National Roadway Safety Strategy in January. Provisions in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act reflect the “Road to Zero” report led and issued by NSC in 2018, in which the nonprofit calls on policymakers and others to follow its three pillars for roadway safety: double down on what works, advance technology and prioritize safety with a safe systems approach.

Meanwhile, everyone who shares the road can:
Prepare before you go: Before hitting the road, make sure your car is safe for driving. Vehicle owners should check the oil, put air in the tires, and check for and repair open recalls. Visit ChecktoProtect.org to see if your vehicle has an open recall, and get it repaired for free.
Buckle up: Since 1975, seat belts are estimated to have saved more than 374,000 lives in the United States. Buckle up, while also making sure you have appropriate car seats installed correctly.
Drive distraction-free: Thousands of people have died in car crashes involving cellphone use. Put your phone away and #JustDrive.
Slow down: Speeding is a factor in more than a quarter of all traffic fatalities. Drive the speed limit and don’t exceed it. Be sure to pay close attention to pedestrians and bikers to keep all road users safe.
Designate a sober driver or arrange alternate transportation: Alcohol is only one cause of impaired driving. Drugs – including opioids, marijuana and some over-the-counter medicines – can cause drowsiness, alter visual function, and affect mental judgment and motor skills.
Learn more: NSC offers many resources to help drivers be safe on the roads and encourages everyone to attend a Road to Zero webinar on March 17 to learn from Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and others on what we can do to combat roadway fatalities together.

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