Nov 23, 2021
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released data on motor vehicle fatalities for the first half of 2021. The troubling findings, included in the Early Estimate of Motor Vehicle Traffic Fatalities for the First Half (January-June) of 2021 report, confirm the largest six-month increase ever recorded in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System’s (FARS) history.
Despite 2020 being a particularly deadly year for car and motor vehicle accidents, U.S. traffic deaths increased 18.4% in the first six months of 2021. The first half of 2021 represents the deadliest on record, and similar statistics have not been recorded since 2006. Furthermore, the NHTSA’s announcement confirmed that the projected 11,225 fatalities during Q2 2021 represents the highest figure since 1990, as well as the highest quarterly percentage change (+23.1%) in FARS data recorded history. In total, the government confirmed that more than 20,000 Americans died on the nation’s roads and highways from January to June of this year.
“This is a crisis,” Pete Buttigieg, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, said in a statement. Buttigieg also noted that the increased traffic deaths left “countless loved ones behind.” “We cannot and should not accept these fatalities as simply a part of everyday life in America.”
In light of the concerning new data, Buttigieg announced a new federal initiative.
“Today we are announcing that we will produce the Department’s first ever National Roadway Safety Strategy to identify action steps for everyone working to save lives on the road. No one will accomplish this alone. 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,” Buttigieg said, following the release of the Early Estimate Report.
According to Secretary Buttigieg, the announced National Roadway Safety Strategy will begin in January 2022. With a focus on reducing serious injuries and deaths resulting from traffic accidents across the nation, Buttigieg said the program will require “concerted and coordinated effort across all levels of government, the private sector, and communities to reverse the current trend.”
The goal of the National Roadway Safety Strategy will be to eliminate all deaths and serious injuries resulting from motor vehicle crashes. Similar to the Vision Zero program adopted here in Los Angeles, the new federal program will include an approach to roadway design that factors in the potential for human error.
The Department of Transportation confirmed having already accelerated two traffic safety measures, including the Focused Approach to Safety Program. 15 states as well as Puerto Rico were included in the program, and officials were notified that they would be receiving technical assistance resources to address the most common types of fatal motor vehicle crashes in their area. California is one of the 15 states included in the Focused Approach to Safety Program. Those 15 states and Puerto Rico make up approximately half of all the road fatalities recorded nationwide. In addition to California and Puerto Rico, the other states targeted in the program include:
California will receive technical assistance and resources from the federal government to specifically address pedestrian and bicycle accidents caused by motor vehicles. Southern California as well as San Diego were two California geographic areas mentioned in the program’s announcement.
Other states included in the program may also receive federal resources to address roadway departures and intersection crashes.
The second federal traffic safety program currently at work is known as the Proven Safety Countermeasures initiative. It will apply road design changes in an effort to increase safety for all drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and bicyclists. Specific areas of focus in the Proven Safety Countermeasures initiative include:
As for the early data offered by the NHTSA, incidents of speeding and not using seatbelts were both found to be higher than before the pandemic.
Steven Cliff, deputy administrator for the NHTSA, said in a public statement that the newly released data represents 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.”
“All of us must work together to stop aggressive, dangerous driving and help prevent fatal crashes,” he added.
The FARS data recording system has been used to track U.S. traffic fatalities since 1975.
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