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Traffic fatalities make historic increase for first nine months of 2021, NHTSA reports

Traffic fatalities increased 12% for the first nine months of 2021 compared to the same period in 2020, marking the biggest percentage increase in the history of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) fatality reporting process, which projects fatality data.

The Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) provides statistical projections for traffic fatalities nationwide, looking at the first nine months of the year in this report that provides an early estimate of motor vehicle traffic fatalities.

The 12% increase is based on an estimated 31,720 people killed in motor vehicle crashes nationwide in the first nine months of 2021 compared to 28,325 killed in the first nine months of 2020. That is the highest number of fatalities for nine months since 2006.

“This dramatic increase is one more reason why it was so critical that Congress pass the bipartisan, safety-focused infrastructure package in November,” ATSSA President & CEO Stacy Tetschner said this morning. “Each day’s delay in pushing vital federal safety funding to state and local governments risks having someone’s child, spouse or another relative not make it home.  ATSSA members know that the only acceptable goal is zero when it comes to roadway fatalities, and with last week’s release of the National Roadway Safety Strategy, the U.S. Department of Transportation knows this as well. We stand committed to working with all stakeholders in a shared mission of zero deaths.”

Statistics for the entire year are not yet available. Data for all of 2021 is expected to be released in April.

The report cites preliminary data reported by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), which shows an 11.7% increase in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in the first 9 months of 2021 compared to the first nine months of 2020. The data shows VMT increased by about 244.0 billion miles.

The report also states that nine of the 10 regions NHTSA analyzes are estimated to have increased fatalities for the first nine months of 2021 and half of the regions are estimated to have increases in the fatality rate per 100 million VMT.

The region with the biggest percentage increase in fatalities estimated for the first nine months of 2021 is Region 10, which includes Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana, which has an estimated 20% increase. Region 6 (New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi) and Region 9 (California, Arizona and Hawaii) both have an estimated 17% increase, the second highest.

Region 3 (Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, North Carolina, West Virginia and Washington, D.C.) was the only region projected to have a decrease with a 2% decline in traffic fatalities.

In its conclusions, the FARS report released this week notes that “the increased trend in fatality rate per 100 million VMT continued into the first quarter of 2021, but the fatality rate has decreased in the second and third quarters of 2021 compared to 2020.”

It also noted that NHTSA continues to gather and finalize data for 2020 and 2021 using police crash reports and other sources and that the final annual report data—not available until 2023—will likely result in a revision of the fatality totals and rates.

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