U.S. Traffic Deaths Reach 16-Year High in 2021 with Speeding and Distracted Driving to Blame

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has reported that nearly 43,000 people died in U.S. traffic crashes in 2021, the highest number in 16 years, with deaths due to speeding and distracted driving on the rise. Fatalities involving alcohol-impaired driving also increased. The agency plans to kick off a $5 million advertising campaign to address distracted driving, which has seen a 12% rise in fatal crashes.

The United States saw the highest number of traffic fatalities in 16 years in 2021, with almost 43,000 people dying due to speeding, distracted, or impaired driving.

This increase, which represents a 10.5% jump from the previous year, is the largest percentage increase since 1975. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which released the final numbers on Monday, also reported a 12% rise in fatal accidents involving at least one distracted driver, leading the agency to kick off a $5 million advertising campaign in an effort to keep drivers’ attention on the road.

Data also showed a 13% increase in pedestrian deaths, a 2% increase in cyclist fatalities, and an 8.1% rise in fatalities involving unbelted passengers.

Fatalities linked to alcohol-impaired driving went up 14%, and speeding-related deaths increased by 7.9%. Fatal crashes involving large trucks weighing over 10,000 pounds were up by 17%.

During a news conference in Seattle, the NHTSA stressed the dangers of distracted driving, which speakers said are entirely preventable if drivers stop using their cell phones or doing other things that divert attention from the road.

Steve Kiefer, a retired General Motors executive whose son died in a distracted driving crash, said that cell phones are a primary cause of distraction. He emphasized the availability of technology that could prevent distracted driving, such as “do not disturb” modes and in-car systems that watch drivers to ensure they’re paying attention.

Kiefer started a foundation aimed at ending distracted driving and said that 90% of people are aware of the danger of distracted driving, yet 80% admit to doing it.

He stated that traffic deaths, crashes, and insurance rates have decreased in the 25 states that have laws against hand-held cell phone use. The crash that killed Kiefer’s son was not reported as involving a distracted driver, indicating that distracted driving deaths are under-reported.

U.S. Traffic Deaths Reach 16-Year High in 2021 with Speeding and Distracted Driving to Blame