Earlier this week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a new analysis of fatal motor vehicle crash data for the 2021 calendar year. The new analysis indicates a dramatic 10.5-percent increase in fatal car crashes as compared to the 2020 calendar year, the largest such increase in nearly 50 years. The large increase is linked to more incidences of speeding, distracted driving, and impairment due to alcohol consumption.
According to the report, almost 43,000 people died in the U.S. as a result of car crashes during the 2021 calendar year, the highest number of traffic-related deaths in 16 years and the largest percentage increase since 1975. The analysis indicates a 12-percent increase in traffic fatalities with at least one distracted driver, totaling 3,522 people killed as a result of distracted driving. Speeding-related auto fatalities increased by 7.9 percent, while alcohol-related fatal car crashes increased by 14 percent. Additionally, the NHTSA reports that 2.5 million people were injured in a car crash during 2021, an increase of 9.4 percent from the year previous.
Retired GM executive Steve Kiefer, who launched the Kiefer Foundation in 2016 following the death of his son Mitchel in a car accident caused by a distracted driver, commented on the latest driving death figures during an NHTSA news conference in Seattle this past Monday. Kiefer stated that cell phone use is the primary cause of distraction, and that current technology like do not disturb mode and in-vehicle apps could work to prevent distracted driving accidents.
“All of this technology is available today, and there’s no reason we can’t use it and roll it out quickly,” Kiefer said.
In addition to the factors already mentioned, the increase in fatal car crashes in 2021 can also be partly attributed to more vehicles on the road following a reduction in average driving at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The NHTSA reports that the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles driven increased 2.2 percent during 2021, up to 1.37.