Auto Accident Fatalities Reached Highest Numbers Recorded in Nearly 20 Years: NHTSA Report

Researchers found that auto accident fatalities may have increased as drivers took more risks on the roads in 2021.

Federal highway safety officials have released a new report which found almost 43,000 deaths linked to car accidents in 2021, marking the highest increase in nearly 20 years.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released the Overview of Motor Vehicle Traffic Crashes in 2021 report earlier this month, as part of its nationwide campaign to raise awareness about the risks associated with distracted driving.

According to the findings, 2021 saw a 10% increase in auto accident fatalities, when compared to the year prior. The rise in deadly car crashes is the highest overall since 2005, and the largest year-over-year percentage increase since 1975.

Car Crash Deaths and Injuries Increased Overall in 2021

The report compared U.S. motor vehicle crash-related injuries and deaths for 2021 and 2020. Both urban and rural areas were examined, as well as how crash risks fluctuated by gender and time of day.

NHTSA researchers then broke down the data into a detailed monthly analysis of vehicle miles traveled with any corresponding fatality or injury trends. In addition to a record jump in overall car accident fatalities in 2021, the statistics examined in the study also showed that overall:

  • Car crash injuries increased by 9.4%
  • Pedestrian accident deaths increased by 13%
  • Cyclist car crash deaths increased by almost 8%
  • Distracted driving-related traffic deaths increased by 12%

Officials found crash and fatality data increased in nearly every category and demographic examined. Researchers noted that the rise in roadway danger does not correspond with total miles traveled, which only increased by 8.1% in 2021 versus 2020.

Risky Driving & Large Truck Accidents Increased Death Rates

To determine what was driving the increase in auto accident deaths, researchers examined driver behaviors such as speed, alcohol-impaired driving, and the use of seat belts.

They determined motorists in almost every demographic were taking more risks on the road in 2021 than in 2020. Some of their findings include:

  • Unbelted passenger deaths rose by 8.1% overall
  • Deaths involving alcohol-impaired driving increased by 14% overall
  • Speeding-related deaths increased by 7.9% overall
  • Large truck accident fatalities increased by 17% overall

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At a news conference following the study’s release, NHTSA officials noted many motor vehicle-related deaths and injuries are preventable if drivers make an effort to prioritize safety. NHTSA deputy administrator Sophie Shulman pointed out that “it only takes a moment to change your life forever.”

Early Data Shows Pedestrian and Cyclist Deaths Rose Again in 2022

The NHTSA announced that preliminary traffic death data for 2022 should become publicly available for analysis in the next few weeks. Early estimates indicate that 31,785 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes from January through September 2022, representing a 0.2% decrease from the same period in 2021.

However, 2022 estimates also indicate that the number of cyclist car accident fatalities increased by 8% compared to 2021, while pedestrian car accident deaths rose by 2% – suggesting that roadways remain especially unsafe for these demographics.


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