DETROIT (AP) — Nearly 43,000 people were killed on U.S. roads last year, the highest number in 16 years as Americans returned to the highways after the pandemic forced many to stay at home.
The 10.5% jump over 2020 numbers was the largest percentage increase since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began its fatality data collection system in 1975.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said America faces a crisis on its roads. The safety administration urged state and local governments, drivers and safety advocates to join in an effort to reverse the rising death trend.
Preliminary figures released Tuesday by the agency show that 42,915 people died in traffic crashes last year, up from 38,824 in 2020. Final figures will be released in the fall.
Americans drove about 325 billion miles last year, 11.2% higher than in 2020, which contributed to the increase.
Nearly 118 people died in U.S. traffic crashes every day last year, according to the agency’s figures. The Governors Highway Safety Association, a group of state traffic safety officials, blamed the increase on dangerous behavior such as speeding, driving while impaired by alcohol and drugs, and distracted driving, as well as “roads designed for speed instead of safety.”
The combination, the group said, “has wiped out a decade and a half of progress in reducing traffic crashes, injuries and deaths.”
Deaths last year increased in almost all types of crashes, NHTSA reported. Fatalities in urban areas and deaths in multi-vehicle crashes each rose 16%. Pedestrian deaths were up 13%, while fatalities among drivers 65 and older rose 14%.
Fatalities involving at least one big truck were up 13%, while motorcycle deaths were up 9% and deaths of bicyclists rose 5%. Fatalities involving speeding drivers and deaths in alcohol-related crashes each were up 5%.
There were four traffic fatalities on Warren County roadways last year.