Oct. 29 (UPI) — The U.S. Department of Transportation on Thursday reported the largest number of motor vehicle traffic fatalities in a six-month span since 2006.
An estimated 20,160 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the first half of 2021, a 15-year high, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s estimates for January-June 2021.
The total also represented an increase of 18.4% from the same period in 2020.
“This is a crisis. More than 20,000 people died on U.S. roads in the first six months of 2021, leaving countless loved ones behind,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “We cannot and should not accept these fatalities as simply part of everyday life in America.”
The NHTSA also released behavioral research findings from March 2020-June 2021 finding that incidents of speeding and traveling without a seatbelt remained at levels higher than before the pandemic.
Preliminary data from the Federal Highway Administration found that vehicle miles traveled in the first half of 2021 increased by about 173.1 billion miles, or about 13%, while the fatality rate increased to 1.34 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, up from 1.28 fatalities per 100 million in 2020.
In June, the agency reported that motor vehicle traffic fatalities in the United States rose to a 13-year high for the entirety of 2020 despite VMT decreasing by 13.2%.
The NHTSA said the first quarter of 2021 proved that the trend shown in the 2020 data that “drivers who remained on the road engaged in more risky behavior, including speeding, failing to wear seat belts and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol” continued to prevail.
“The report is sobering,” said NHTSA Deputy Administrator Dr. Steven Cliff. “It’s also a reminder of what hundreds of millions of people can do every day, right now, to combat this: Slow down, wear seat belts, drive sober and avoid distractions behind the wheel.”
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety on Thursday called on the Department of Transportation to issue new safety requirements to “protect all road users,” while stating every new vehicle should be equipped with crash avoidance technology, driving prevention technology and other upgrades.
The Department of Transportation said it will release a strategy in January to “significantly reduce serious injuries and deaths on our nation’s roadways” in response to the report.
“No one will accomplish this alone,” said Buttigieg. “It will take all levels of government, industries advocates, engineers and communities across the country working together toward the day when family members no longer have to say goodbye to loved ones because of a traffic crash.”