According to a preliminary result released by the NHTSA in October, the first six months of 2021 saw an estimated 20,160 lives lost on America’s roadways. This number represents an 18.4 percent increase in fatalities compared to the same period in 2020.
The first half of 2021’s death toll was also the worst since 2006. If nothing changes, the pace and statistics indicate that the U.S. could see an estimated 40,000 people lose their lives on the roads this year.
It Is a Continuation of Lockdown Trends
This trend marks a continuation of the high death rates seen at the height of the pandemic, with experts citing open roadways and lax traffic law enforcement as the cause of the spike. Experts expected that the trend would change as the country returned to normalcy and more people got back on the road. However, this data from the NHTSA report paints a different story.
While experts cannot put the finger on one factor as a reason for the spike in fatalities, most believe it has something to do with the pandemic. According to Karl Minges, Interim Dean at the University of New Haven’s School of Health Sciences, the rise in road fatalities has inexplicable links to the COVID-19 pandemic that left many Americans feeling stressed and trapped and looking for a way to break away from their isolation.
Driver Behavior Is Also to Blame
Besides auto accident fatality data, NHTSA also released its behavioral research findings from a study conducted between March 2020 to June 2021. The studies showed that many Americans had adopted riskier driving behavior during the pandemic, with incidences of speeding and failure to buckle up being more prevalent than pre-pandemic levels.
“This report is a reminder that all Americans need to practice safe driving to combat the problem,” said car accident attorney Amy Gaiennie. “Drivers should slow down, buckle up, drive sober, and avoid distractions to protect everyone on the roadway.”
The Federal Government Is Working to Stop the Carnage
When reacting to the reports, the transportation secretary Peter Buttigieg announced the Department of Transportation’s National Roadway Safety Strategy. This strategy aims to identify and promote actions that everyone working to save lives on the roads could adopt to minimize severe injuries and deaths nationwide. This strategy comes into effect in January 2022.
Even as it awaits the National Roadways Safety Strategy’s preparation, the federal government has accelerated two programs focused on safety through the Federal Highways Administration (FHWA). One of these programs is the Focused Approach to Safety Program. Under this program, FHWA has notified Puerto Rico and 15 other states that account for 50 percent of all road fatalities that they will receive technical assistance to address the most prevalent types of fatal crashes.
FHWA has also issued nine additional strategies to the agency’s Proven Safety Countermeasures initiatives in its second program. These initiatives include road design elements that make roads safer, such as bicycle lanes, crosswalk visibility, and rectangular rapid flashing beacons.
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