Traffic fatalities increase in 2021 despite consumers driving fewer miles

Photo (c) NikolayShubin - Getty Images

The U.S. is putting new energy and money into making the nation's roads safer

Even though Americans drove a half-million miles less in 2021 than they did in 2020, a new study finds that traffic fatalities reached their highest level since 2005.

The study, conducted by insurance and credit card comparison platform ValuePenguin – suggests that fatalities from the first nine months of 2021, if annualized, would come out to 43,316 for the year. That rather sobering figure represents a 12% jump from the first nine months of 2020.

Breaking those numbers down, estimates show that the fatality rate was 1.35 per 100 million miles. The last time U.S. roads were this dangerous was in 2007, when the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled was 1.36.

States with the highest and lowest death rates

The ValuePenguin study shows that Idaho saw the largest increase in the fatality rate per mile traveled, with a 20.9% jump over the previous year.  Following Idaho were two other western U.S. states – Oregon and Nevada. They experienced a 15.3% and 14.5% increase, respectively.

The silver lining in the fatality cloud was that 30 states actually saw a year-over-year decrease in traffic fatalities per mile traveled. Nebraska led the way with a decrease of 25.5%, moving from 1.29 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles to 0.96. Maine, Maryland, and Rhode Island also fared well, with drops of 24.4%, 21.0%, and 18.5%, respectively.

Officials look to improve traffic safety

After receiving a substantial infusion of new funding under President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has taken on the responsibility of making travel safer. Included in the agency’s new guidance is a provision to protect people outside of vehicles – such as people walking, biking, or using mobility assistive devices – in hopes of reducing the number of lives lost on the nation’s highways, bridges, and roads. 

The FHWA hopes to use its additional funds to create a more “data-driven, holistic and equitable” approach to reducing vehicle deaths. How will that actually show up on U.S. roads? The agency said it would like to see designers build in redundancies so that more elements of the transportation system provide protection to save lives and prevent serious injuries on our roads if one element fails.

“FHWA’s goal is to help state and local transportation agencies across the country deliver projects that make streets, highways, and bridges safe and accessible for all users,” said Deputy Federal Highway Administrator Stephanie Pollack. “Under the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, states now have more flexibility and funding to make highway safety improvements.”

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