Almost 43,000 people died on US roads last year, the highest number in 16 years.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found there was a 10.5% increase in the number of deaths in 2021 compared to 2020, with 42,915 losing their life – nearly 118 people every day.
The jump was the largest increase since the NHTSA began collecting the fatality data in 1975.
The Governors Highway Safety Association blamed the increase on dangerous behaviour such as speeding, driving while impaired by alcohol and drugs, and distracted driving.
They said “roads [have been] designed for speed instead of safety.”
Since returning to the roads after the pandemic, people in the US drove about 325 billion miles last year, 11.2% more than in 2020, which contributed to the increase.
Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg has urged state and local governments, drivers and safety advocates to join in the effort to reverse the rising death rate.
NHTSA reported the fatalities in urban areas and deaths in multi-vehicle crashes rose by 16%, pedestrian deaths increased by 13% and mortalities involving drivers aged 65 or older went up by 14%.
Incidents involving motorcycles that caused loss of life rose by 9% while deaths involving bicycles were up by 5%.
Mr Buttigieg said his department will provide guidance and billions under President Biden’s new infrastructure law to spur lower speed limits, embrace safer roads with dedicated bike and bus lanes, as well as lighting and speed cameras as part of a national strategy that was unveiled earlier this year.
The department will spend $6bn over a five-year period on local efforts to reduce the number of crashes and deaths.
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“The Transport Department is moving in the right direction to stem the increase in deaths, but it will take years for many of the steps to work,” said Michael Brooks, executive director for Auto Safety.
According to Mr Brooks the NHTSA has pending regulations to require electronic automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection systems. He added emergency braking can slow or stop a vehicle if there is an object in its path.
Steven Cliff, deputy NHTSA administrator, said the roadway crisis is urgent and preventable.
He said: “We will redouble our safety efforts, and we need everyone – state and local governments, safety advocates, automakers and drivers, to join us.
“All our lives depend on it.”