The US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released the Early Estimate of Motor Vehicle Traffic Fatalities for the First Half (January-June) of 2021, which shows the largest six-month increase recorded in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System’s history. An estimated 20,160 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the first half of 2021, up 18.4% over 2020—the largest number of projected fatalities in that time period since 2006.
In addition to the traffic fatality data, NHTSA also released behavioral research findings from March 2020 through June 2021, indicating that incidents of speeding and traveling without a seatbelt remain higher than during pre-pandemic times.
Preliminary data from the Federal Highway Administration show that 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 4.7% from the projected rate of 1.28 fatalities per 100 million VMT in the first half of 2020.
However, the report also shows that the fatality rate in Q2 has declined—the first decline in year-to-year quarterly fatality rate since Q4 of 2019.
USDOT is developing a National Roadway Safety Strategy that is intended to bring together work being done across USDOT and that will put forth a comprehensive set of actions to reduce serious injuries and deaths on the nation’s roadways significantly. The strategy will recognize that, while the Department has an important leadership role to play in addressing this crisis, it will take concerted and coordinated effort across all levels of government, the private sector, and communities to reverse the current trend. The strategy will be released in January.
The strategy will be rooted in the Safe System Approach principles and identifies significant actions the Department will take to help ensure: Safer People, Safer Roads, Safer Vehicles, Safer Speeds, and Post-Crash Care.
Even while the National Roadway Safety Strategy is being prepared, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has accelerated two proven programs focused on highway safety. The Focused Approach to Safety Program has notified 15 states and Puerto Rico—who together account for roughly half of nationwide road fatalities—that they will receive technical assistance resources to address the most common types of crashes that result in fatalities (roadway departures, intersection crashes, and pedestrian/bicycle crashes).
FHWA is also issuing nine new Proven Safety Countermeasures, which are road design elements that are proven to make roads safer for all users, but are underutilized. The new Proven Safety Countermeasures supported by FHWA are: rectangular rapid flashing beacons; crosswalk visibility enhancements; bicycle lanes; lighting; pavement friction management; wider edge lines; variable speed limits; appropriate speed limit-setting; and speed safety cameras. With these additions, there are now a total of 28 Proven Safety Countermeasures.