In 2021, the US had the highest number of traffic fatalities since 2005

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said 2021 saw the highest number of fatalities since 2005.

The NHTSA estimate of traffic fatalities for 2021 estimated that 42,915 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes last year, a 10.5% increase from the 38,824 fatalities in 2020. 

People have been dying on the roads ever since 1899, when Henry Hale Bliss was killed by a taxicab as he stepped off a streetcar at West 74th Street and Central Park West in New York. He is on record as the victim of the first traffic-related death in U.S. history. But these days, traffic fatalities generally are big news only when several people are killed in a crash.

“We face a crisis on America’s roadways that we must address together,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “With our National Roadway Safety Strategy and the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we are taking critical steps to help reverse this devastating trend and save lives on our roadways.” 

Studies have found that a significant portion of vehicle crashes are caused by human errors.

However, a vast body of research has demonstrated that certain modifications to highway infrastructure can decrease the probability that drivers will make errors; that errors will lead to crashes; and that crashes will result in life-altering injuries or death.

The failure to adequately invest in transportation maintenance over 40 years has undermined efforts to reduce roadway crashes and fatalities although the new Safe Streets and Roads for All program, which opened its first round of applications in May, is slated to spend up to $6 billion over five years to improve safety.

An estimated 42,915 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2021,

The FY22 Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for Safe Streets and Roads for All grants is live on  The deadline for applications is 5 p.m. EDT on September 15, 2022, and counties, cities, towns, and transit agencies or other special districts may apply.

“This crisis on our roads is urgent and preventable,” said Dr. Steven Cliff, NHTSA’s Deputy Administrator. “We will redouble our safety efforts, and we need everyone – state and local governments, safety advocates, automakers, and drivers – to join us. All of our lives depend on it.” 

The estimate of 2021 traffic fatalities shows that during the pandemic, as in 2020, all 10 NHTSA regions experienced increases in fatalities. Forty-four states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico all had a greater number of traffic deaths than 2020. 

Data reported by the Federal Highway Administration show that vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in 2021 increased by about 325 billion miles, or about 11.2%, as compared to 2020. 

Data estimates show the fatality rate for 2021 was 1.33 fatalities per 100 million VMT, marginally down from 1.34 fatalities in 2020. While the fatality rate continued to rise in the first quarter, it declined in the other three quarters of 2021, compared to 2020. 

Additionally, the traffic fatalities in the following categories showed relatively large increases in 2021, as compared to 2020: 

  • Fatalities in multi-vehicle crashes up 16% 
  • Fatalities on urban roads up 16% 
  • Fatalities among drivers 65 and older up 14% 
  • Pedestrian fatalities up 13% 
  • Fatalities in crashes involving at least one large truck up 13% 
  • Daytime fatalities up 11% 
  • Motorcyclist fatalities up 9% 
  • Bicyclist fatalities up 5% 
  • Fatalities in speeding-related crashes up 5% 
  • Fatalities in police-reported, alcohol-involvement crashes up 5% 

The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office reported 674 fatal crashes last year, up nearly 24 percent from 550 in 2020.

Overall, New Jersey traffic accidents killed 704 people in 2021, 20 percent higher than 587 a year earlier. That followed a 5.2 percent increase in traffic deaths from 2019 to 2020.

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