- There are signs since the COVID-19 pandemic began, but with more people driving poorer and changing driving habits, the number of deaths in the first quarter of 2021 was the highest since at least 2009.
- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in its latest report said the number of deaths in the first three months of this year was 1.26 per 100 million miles traveled, up from 1.12 in 2020.
- The solutions are things we already know – less distracted and impaired driving, for example – but these messages aren’t breaking down the way they need to get the numbers down.
The COVID-19 pandemic seems to have changed the automotive habits of American drivers. First we drove less, then we drove fast with less attention, and then the number of fatal accidents started climbing. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has now released its numbers from the first quarter of 2021, and it turns out that American roads have become even more dangerous as the pandemic continues. During the first three months of this year, NHTSA said an estimated 8,730 people died in motor vehicle traffic accidents. Since there were 7900 deaths in the same time period in 2020, showing an increase of around 10.5 percent.
At the end of 2020, the NHTSA released fatal accident statistics, which predicted a 2 percent drop in the actual number of people who died in motor vehicle traffic accidents between 2019 and 2020. This was understandable, as the country’s driving habits had completely changed last year. But when the NHTSA included a reduction in vehicle miles traveled (VMT), the death rate actually increased. For every 100 million VMT, there were 1.06 deaths in 2019 and 1.25 throughout 2020.
When the NHTSA ran similar VMT calculations, the number of deaths increased to 1.26 per 100 million VMT in 2021, compared to 1.12 for the first quarter of 2020. These are the highest in the first quarter, both in net numbers and rates per 100 VMT. Mortality rates since at least 2009, according to the NHTSA fact sheet.
NHTSA doesn’t want to report just how dangerous the roads are these days; It wants to make them safe. That’s why the agency released a new version of its Countermeasures That Work report with new fatality estimates. This report identifies what types of actions can reduce road accidents, and the tips should be familiar to most drivers: stop driving while impaired, distracted, and sleepy; keeping cyclists and motorcyclists safe; And making sure people wear their seatbelts, among other options. It all sounds repetitive, sure, but imagine having a representative from the agency that has to tell Americans how to drive safely.
“We must address the tragic loss of life seen on the streets in 2020 by taking a transformative and collaborative approach to safety,” NHTSA Acting Administrator Steven Cliffe said in a statement. “Everyone who designs, operates, builds and uses a road system share a responsibility for road safety. We are working closely with our safety partners to address risky driving behavior.”
It’s important to note that these numbers are only preliminary estimates, which the NHTSA regularly publishes. When various agencies submit their numbers to the security agency later this year, they will be updated with more accurate figures, but the trends are not looking good.
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