The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released its preliminary estimates about fatal car accidents across the country in 2021. On paper, the results do not look good, with a 16-year high in the number of roadway fatalities and a staggering increase from the year prior.
But the data is misleading in several years – sometimes extremely misleading. While the numbers are still bad, they are not as terrible as the NHTSA makes it seem.
NHTSA’s Preliminary Crash Stats Paint Bleak Picture of Road Safety
According to the NHTSA’s early estimates of road fatalities for 2021, approximately 42,915 people died in motor vehicle accidents last year. This was the highest fatality count since 2005 and the biggest year-over-year percentage increase since the NHTSA started counting with the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS).
Across the board, traffic accident fatalities were up. Every age group from 25 and up saw a double-digit increase in road fatalities. Fatal accidents on both urban arterial roads and on rural interstate roads were up 15 percent. Bicyclists, motorcyclists, and pedestrians saw increases.
The increases prompted Dr. Steven Cliff, the NHTSA’s Deputy Administrator, to say in a press release, “This crisis on our roads is urgent and preventable.”
A Simple Explanation Reduces the Cause for Concern
The NHTSA’s report is full of doom and gloom. But there is an extremely simple explanation that rolls back the report from “catastrophically bad” to just “not good”: People drove a lot more in 2021 than they did in 2020.
The NHTSA’s data is always a year behind. The numbers they are showing come from last year. When they say that “bicyclist fatalities were up 5 percent,” they mean that they were up 5 percent from 2020.
2020, as you may remember, is the year when huge swaths of the country were locked down for a long period of time. People worked from home. No one traveled. Vehicle miles plummeted by nearly 60 percent. There was so little traffic that people were able to drive at the speed limit on highways around Los Angeles.
With fewer cars on the road, there are going to be fewer crashes. Even if more of them are fatal – with fewer cars on the road, people tend to drive faster, making any resulting crash more severe – there will still likely be a decrease in fatalities. So comparing traffic data from 2021, or any year for that matter, to 2020’s traffic data will reveal huge changes.
All of these stats like “pedestrian fatalities were up 13 percent,” then, are misleading.
As for the total number of traffic fatalities, which was the highest they have been since 2005, the more important number is how many fatalities there were, per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. This metric, however, does show a substantial and worrying increase. According to the NHTSA, since 2010, fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled tends to hover around 1.14. It ranged from 1.08 to 1.19 from 2010 to 2019.
In 2021, there were 1.33 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. This was in line with 2020’s rate of 1.34 fatalities.
Car Accident Lawyers at the Smith Law Office Serve Western Missouri
If you have been hurt in a car accident in St. Joseph, Springfield, Kansas City, or the rest of western Missouri, call the personal injury lawyers at the Smith Law Office at (816) 875-9373 or contact them online.