Highway traffic deaths jumped by more than 10% across the United States in 2021, resulting in the most significant increase since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began recording statistics in 1975. Georgia’s unofficial stats showed a slightly lower increase of just over 9% in 2021.
NHTSA says the disturbing rise in traffic deaths is the direct result of risky driver behaviors that increased during the pandemic, including reckless driving, speeding and fewer motorists wearing seat belts. Hazardous driving activity soared when traffic levels were low in early 2020 but didn’t subside when drivers returned to the road.
Double-digit increases recorded in several categories
NHTSA released an early estimate in May for 2021 traffic fatalities. The agency reports that 42,915 people died in motor vehicle crashes compared to 38,824 the year before. While the 10.5% increase is a record, other significant increases occurred across the board, including fatalities for:
- Multi-vehicle crashes – 16%
- Urban road accidents – 16%
- Drivers 65 and older – 14%
- Pedestrians – 13%
- Crashes involving large trucks – 13%
- Daytime accidents – 11%
- Motorcyclists – 9%
- Bicyclists – 5%
- Speeding-related crashes – 5%
Alcohol-related crashes reported by police also rose by 5% in 2021.
Georgia’s death rate slowed in the final three months
While the Peach State is the eighth most populous in the U.S., it has the fourth-highest motor vehicle fatality rate. Preliminary statistics show 1,776 people died on Georgia roadways last year – a 9.4% increase over 2020. The only positive news is that the fatality rate slowed during the final three months of 2021. During the first nine months, Georgia’s rate was 12.2%.
USDOT offers incentives to states
In May, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced that $6 billion in grants would be available to state and local governments to address traffic safety and help curb fatalities. The money encourages states and cities to lower speed limits, upgrade road design for bicycles and bus lines, add crosswalks and improve lighting.
The funds also provide incentives for the increased use of speed cameras, which some believe to be a more effective way to identify speeders. The money is available for five years. Traffic safety advocates say the steps are a move in the right direction, but the benefits may not be seen for years.