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NHTSA estimates show traffic fatalities reached a 16-year high in 2021; up 10.5% over 2020

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has released its early estimate of traffic fatalities for 2021. NHTSA projects that an estimated 42,915 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes last year—a 10.5% increase from the 38,824 fatalities in 2020. The projection is the highest number of fatalities since 2005 and the largest annual percentage increase in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System’s history.

Some categories showed large shifts in fatalities and fatality rates in a given month, compared to the corresponding month in 2020. For example, the share of fatalities on urban roads went from 57% in March 2020 to 62% in March 2021, a 5-percentage-point increase. Correspondingly, the total fatalities (fatality counts) on urban roads increased from 21,940 in 2020 to 25,411 in 2021, a 16% increase.

Preliminary data reported by the Federal Highway Administration show that vehicle miles traveled 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%



Here is a list of traffic fatalities by country, somewhat out of date now, but near enough to show the problem in the US:


the US and the UK are conveniently adjacent in the table, and perhaps the fairest comparison is the deaths per billion kilometers, 3.4 in the UK, 7.3 in the US.

A considerable part of this will be due to the US having more relatively fast single lane roads, where most deaths happen, but since there are also plenty of crappy drivers in the UK, it is difficult to conclude other than that control and management of traffic in the US is not seriously defective.

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