As driving declines, US traffic fatalities jump by more than 10%

NHTSA reported fatalities rose by 10.5% in the first quarter of 2021 compared to 2020, even though Americans are driving less.

Sean Szymkowski
It all started with Gran Turismo. From those early PlayStation days, Sean was drawn to anything with four wheels. Prior to joining the Roadshow team, he was a freelance contributor for Motor Authority, The Car Connection and Green Car Reports. As for what's in the garage, Sean owns a 2016 Chevrolet SS, and yes, it has Holden badges.
Sean Szymkowski
Traffic crash

Americans are engaging in riskier behavior behind the wheel.

Eyecrave/Getty Images

A worrying trend began amid the pandemic as traffic crash fatality rates increased despite many drivers staying home. In a new report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the trend continued, even as American drove fewer miles. According to NHTSA's first-quarter 2021 fatality estimate report, deaths due to crashes increased by 10.5% even though miles driven dropped by 2.1%.

In other words, even though Americans drove less in the first quarter of this year, more motorists died from traffic collisions. The total rose to 8,730 deaths, compared to 7,900 in Q1 of 2020. NHTSA also measures fatalities in rates per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. For every 100 million miles, 1.26 fatalities occurred, up from 1.12 in Q1 2020.

The government agency found that riskier behavior on display at the start of the pandemic, such as more speeding and driving under the influence, continues today. NHTSA said this behavior "changed significantly from previous years." Last year, the government found the motorists still driving despite economic shutdowns engaged in far riskier behavior, which even includes more motorists not wearing a seatbelt.

Steven Cliff, NHTSA's acting administrator, said in a statement, "We must address the tragic loss of life we saw on the roads in 2020 by taking a transformational and collaborative approach to safety. We are working closely with our safety partners to address risky driving behaviors such as speeding, impaired driving, and failing to buckle up."

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