Traffic deaths in US reached a 16-year high in 2021

Emergency crews respond to a fatal semitruck accident in West Valley City on Aug. 30, 2021. Traffic deaths nationwide reached a 16-year high last year, with nearly 43,000 Americans having lost their lives on roads, according to early estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Emergency crews respond to a fatal semitruck accident in West Valley City on Aug. 30, 2021. Traffic deaths nationwide reached a 16-year high last year, with nearly 43,000 Americans having lost their lives on roads, according to early estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Traffic deaths nationwide reached a 16-year high last year, with nearly 43,000 Americans having lost their lives on roads, according to early estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Although it's just a projection, the numbers represent the most deaths since 2005, and the 10.5% annual increase is the largest in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System's history, according to an NHTSA press release. The deaths include pedestrians, cyclists and others who died during vehicular crashes.

"We face a crisis on America's roadways that we must address together," U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement, noting that funds from the infrastructure bill signed last November by President Joe Biden are available to help states and municipalities improve safety.

Driving the news: The numbers aren't surprising, after a preliminary report last fall previewed the increase, but it's still an alarming trend with deaths rising in 44 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., according to NBC News.

  • CNBC reports the surge in deaths corresponds with a similar increase in miles driven, not necessarily an increase in fatality rate. Estimates put the fatality rate for 2021 at 1.33 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. In 2020, the rate is estimated to be 1.34 fatalities.
  • In Utah, increasing instances of wrong-way driving, excessing speeding, drivers trying to outrun police during pursuits and drivers who brandish weapons have contributed to making Utah's roadways less safe.

Where roadway fatalities are increasing fastest: Puerto Rico led the nation with a nearly 40% increase in deaths, followed by Idaho with a 33.6% increase and Minnesota with 26.9%.

  • Utah's traffic deaths rose from 276 in 2020 to 332 in 2021, with its 20.3% increase totaling the ninth most of any state or territory. Neighboring Nevada and New Mexico also made the top 10, with increases of 21.8% and 20.4%, respectively.
  • Maine, Wisconsin, Maryland, Nebraska and Wyoming were the only states to mark decreases last year, with Wyoming's 11% decrease the largest improvement. Rhode Island had the exact same number of fatalities — 67 — in 2020 and 2021.

The trend continues: Early reports from 2022 show further increases locally, and New York City saw a 44% jump in traffic fatalities in the first quarter, according to Axios.

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Utah transportationThe WestU.S.Utah
Bridger Beal-Cvetko

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