Traffic fatalities

Road traffic down but fatality rates up

Road fatalities spiked in the first half of 2021, the largest increase ever recorded in its reporting system’s history during a six-month period.

Data estimates by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)'s Fatality Analysis Reporting System shows an estimated 20,160 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the first half of 2021, up 18.4 percent over 2020. That’s the largest number of projected fatalities in that time period since 2006.

Traffic fatality rates during the first six months of 2021,
compared to 2020

Map of states that had changes in traffic fatality rates.

Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)


Fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled

Table of fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, 2015-2020.

Source: NHTSA

What factors may be driving up traffic deaths?

In addition to the traffic fatality data, NHTSA also released behavioral research findings from March 2020 through June 2021, indicating that incidents of speeding and traveling without a seatbelt remain higher than during pre-pandemic times.

“This is a crisis. More than 20,000 people died on U.S. roads in the first six months of 2021, leaving countless loved ones behind. We cannot and should not accept these fatalities as simply a part of everyday life in America,” said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

NHTSA researchers say the reasons for the deaths all point to reckless behavior by drivers who did stay on the roads. 

Icons of what contributed to deaths on road

  • Average speeds increased and extreme speeds became more common.
  • Fewer people involved in crashes used their seat belts.
  • Between mid-March and mid-July almost two-thirds of seriously or fatally injured drivers tested positive for at least one active drug.

Alcohol sales on the rise

Table comparing alcohol sales in 2019 and 2020. Sales in 2020 increased drastically after the pandemic began.

Source: NHTSA. 2019 FARS Annual Report File, U.S. Census Bureau/Monthly Retail Trade and Food Services

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