2021 has become a torment for the safety of the nation’s roads, as the country between January and June hit its largest six-month percentage increase in fatalities in the half-century U.S. officials have kept such records.
In the first half of ‘21, 20,160 people died in vehicle wrecks — an 18.4% increase over the comparable period in the year before.
That six-month vehicular death toll, which only now is becoming official, also was the highest recorded in 15 years.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called the spiking road deaths a “crisis,” adding in his statement:
“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.”
Transportation and law enforcement officials at the federal, state, and local levels have pledged to take all appropriate steps to slash the road injuries and deaths, which, until recent years, had fallen in steady fashion. The coronavirus pandemic, however, unleashed safety menaces that authorities may struggle to tame.
During the weeks in which so many people from coast to coast were locked down and stayed home, motorists found wide open roads, which some zoomed around on with scary zeal. Police and state troopers reported rising incidents in which drivers were stopped, ticketed, and more for exceeding 100 mph on byways posted for far lower speeds.
Officials hoped that once greater social normalcy and traffic returned, that speeding problems would ease. They — and other challenges — apparently have not, according to law enforcement authorities and separate behavioral studies recently issued by U.S. transportation experts.
Too many motorists, they say, are ignoring posted limits and common sense as they race to get to jobs, social occasions, and more, speeding on roads that are as jammed as they were before.
Further, and what has become increasingly true for male motorists, scofflaws are failing to heed a safety basic, declining to wear life-saving restraints like seat belts. This has led to rising cases in which drivers are ejected from fast-moving vehicles and suffer grave injuries.
Motorists, according to private research closely monitored by federal transportation safety experts, also have returned to a vexatious distraction — fumbling with cell phones and likely texting, actions that distract drivers in dangerous and too often deadly ways. Transportation officials also have noted that other experts have reported surges in alcohol and marijuana use during the pandemic, likely worsening the road toll.
In reference to the half-year fatality data issued by his federal colleagues Dr. Steven Cliff, the deputy administrator of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, said in a statement:
“The report is sobering. It’s also a reminder of what hundreds of millions of people can do every day, right now, to combat this: Slow down, wear seat belts, drive sober, and avoid distractions behind the wheel. All of us must work together to stop aggressive, dangerous driving and help prevent fatal crashes.”
In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the damage that can be inflicted on them and their loved ones by motorcycle, auto, and truck wrecks.
We had made big progress in recent decades reducing the nation’s road carnage. But this has progress been rolled back not only by the pandemic but more crucially by drivers’ selfishness and negligence.
When we get behind the wheel, we all must accept greater responsibility for the safety of ourselves, our passengers, as well as others. We can’t embrace a mind-set that we’re somehow locked in metal bubble in which being inconsiderate of others becomes acceptable. We must realize that thrill-seeking, distraction (especially with electronic devices and texting and more), sleepiness, and driving while under the influence of substances (including prescription medications, as well as alcohol and marijuana) can have major and fatal consequences for others.
Police and other authorities have promised to crack down on speeders, as well as those driving under the influence or failing to obey laws requiring the wearing of seat belts. Government officials, notably in the District of Columbia, have pledged to tackle safety problems involving speed limits and roads’ optimal signage, design, and construction, especially to safeguard bicyclists and pedestrians.
If you have the misfortune of getting involved in a bad vehicle crash, you and your loved ones may wish not only to call in your insurer early but also experienced and expert lawyers to deal with the extensive legal issues that may ensue. Your auto agent represents the insurer, remember, and these individuals, kindly and conscientious as they may seem, may not be trained to deal with complex legal and medical issues.
We have lots of work to do to keep ourselves and our roads as safe as possible.