Motor Vehicle Accidents Caused 20,160 Deaths in First Six Months of 2021: NHTSA

Estimates suggest largest ever six-month jump in car accident deaths ever recorded, following record breaking numbers in 2020

Federal traffic safety officials indicate that there were an estimated 20,160 deaths resulting from motor vehicle accidents during the first half of 2021, representing the largest ever recorded increase over a six month period.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released the Early Estimate of Motor Vehicle Traffic Fatalities for the First Half (January-June) of 2021, warning that number of deaths was up 18.4% over the the record breaking death rates recorded in 2020.

Nationwide, vehicle miles traveled in the first half of 2021 increased by about 173.1 billion miles, or about 13%. The fatality rate for the first half of 2021 increased to 1.34 fatalities per 100 million VMT, up from the projected rate of 1.28 fatalities per 100 million VMT in the first half of 2020.

NHTSA Deputy Administrator Dr. Steven Cliff indicates that the report’s findings are “sobering” and a “reminder of what hundreds of millions of people can do every day, right now, to combat this: Slow down, wear seat belts, drive sober, and avoid distractions behind the wheel.”

The increases in motor vehicle accident deaths for 2021 have continued to trend upward since the last NHTSA fatality statistics update in September, when officials announced that there were 8,730 traffic fatalities in just the first three months of 2021, representing a 10.5% increase over the first three months of 2020.

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The rising rate of fatal car accidents has also become a major focus of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). It released a series of safety recommendations in September 2018, calling for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) to collaborate on efforts to produce better standards to will protect pedestrians.

Although vehicles continue to get safer and add new features that are designed to reduce the risk of car crashes, NHTSA officials have recorded consecutive increases in overall deaths since 2019, with 33,244 fatalities in 2019, which then soared by 7.2% in 2020, for a total of 38,680 traffic-related deaths, despite substantial reductions in travel during much of the year as the COVID-19 pandemic emerged and gripped the nation.

Officials have also expressed concerns about the consecutive increases in pedestrian fatalities. In 2019 alone, 6,590 pedestrians were killed in motor vehicle accidents, which then increased by 4.8% in 2020, despite less vehicle miles traveled amid the pandemic lockdowns.

The findings were reported amid the currently ongoing second annual National Pedestrian Safety Month campaign launched by NHTSA, which focuses on several problems that may be responsible for the consecutive increases in pedestrian traffic fatalities seen over the last several years. The campaign is focused on how to prohibit speeding, embracing new safety technologies and a comprehensive review of the nation’s roadways with the focus on how to accommodate pedestrians.

In September, the NHTSA issued the 10th edition of Countermeasures That Work, which is a report covering 10 areas of concern on roadways. Specifically, the report covers strategies for alcohol- and drug-impaired driving, bicycle safety, distracted driving, drowsy driving, motorcycle safety, older drivers, pedestrian safety, seat belts and child restraints, speeding and speed management, and young drivers.


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