Even with budget-busting gas prices, Americans are driving with abandon, especially as the nation heads into the summer vacation season. But what will get motorists to slow down, buckle up, and heed vital road safety steps — especially as the latest new numbers underscore the lethal toll if they don’t?
Traffic fatalities climbed by 10% last year versus the year before, busting the percentage increase record in such deaths since federal officials started keeping their tallies in 1975, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has found. The Washington Post reported that the 42,915 fatalities in 2021 were a the highest such number nationwide since 2005.
The spiking road toll also carried this grim outcome for pedestrians, a leading road safety group reported:
“Drivers struck and killed an estimated 7,485 people on foot in 2021 – the most pedestrian deaths in a single year in four decades and an average of 20 deaths every day, according to a new estimate released today by the Governors Highway Safety Association. To provide additional context on pedestrian safety trends, the report also includes an analysis of 2020 data from [NHTSA] that reveals a shocking new statistic – the percentage of speeding-related pedestrian crashes involving children ages 15 and younger more than doubled in the previous three years.
“‘This is heartbreaking and unacceptable. The pandemic has caused so much death and damage, it’s frustrating to see even more lives needlessly taken due to dangerous driving,’ said GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins. ‘We must address the root causes of the pedestrian safety crisis – speeding and other dangerous driving behaviors, inadequate infrastructure, and roads designed for vehicle speed instead of safety – to reverse this trend and ensure people can walk safely.’”
The NHTSA statistics, which take awhile to compile before they become official for a given year, contain their own disconcerting trends, the Washington Post reported:
“The agency said fatal multivehicle pileups and crashes on urban roads were up 16%. Fatalities among senior citizens jumped 14%. Deaths involving at least one large truck soared 13% …Deaths of bicyclists were up 5%, as were fatal crashes involving speeding and alcohol. Driving overall was up 11%.”
The coronavirus pandemic unleashed the new road terrors, even as motorists reduced the miles they drove — but did so with greater speed, recklessness, impairment, and distraction, wiping out years of safety gains, the newspaper reported. Officials had believed that the road toll would decline, even as greater normality returned, and motorists returned to heavy driving. But this has not occurred, prompting U.S. officials to crackdown on scofflaws and to push for heightened safety efforts, especially with funding from the $1 trillion infrastructure bill approved recently in bipartisan fashion by Congress. As the newspaper noted:
“Three pandemic-era behavioral trends that helped to push deaths higher in 2020 worsened in 2021, according to the data. Speeding-related fatalities increased 17% from 2019 to 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic began. They continued their climb in 2021, increasing another 5%. The yearly tally of lives lost in such crashes rose from 9,592 in 2019 to 11,258 in 2020, followed by 11,780 last year. Deaths among those who were not wearing seat belts increased by 14% in the pandemic’s first year, a figure that grew another 3% in 2021, according to the data. And alcohol-related crashes, as reported by police, were up 16% in 2020, followed by another 5% last year. Other road safety measures that rose early in the pandemic seemed to moderate. Deaths in rollover crashes, which road safety experts say are particularly violent and often involve a single vehicle, went up sharply in 2020 compared with a year earlier, rising 13%. Fatalities in such crashes fell by 4% between 2020 and 2021 but were still above 2019 levels.”
The governors’ road safety group had these salient observations about the pedestrian toll:
“Drivers of passenger cars have consistently accounted for the greatest number of fatal pedestrian crashes. However, over the past decade the number of pedestrian deaths in crashes involving sport utility vehicles (SUVs) increased at a faster rate than deaths in crashes involving passenger cars – 36% versus 27%, respectively. Because of their greater body weight and larger profile, SUVs can cause more harm to a person on foot when a crash occurs.
“Most pedestrian fatalities continue to occur at night, although nighttime deaths have accounted for an even larger share over the past few years. In 2020, more than 76% of deaths with a known lighting condition were at night. Since 2014, nighttime pedestrian deaths have risen by 41%, from 3,510 in 2014 to 4,951 in 2020.”
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 wrecks involving pedestrians, bikes, motorcycles, cars, and trucks. We are all, due to vehicular menaces, one unfortunate step into a busy intersection away from seeing our lives, families, and finances upended with short- and long-term harms.
It seems that another “d” must be added to problems that we motorists can improve to benefit the greater safety of all — destructiveness. It is unacceptable to speed and to recklessly disregard proven safety measures, including personal restraints, and common-sense conduct behind the wheel while purportedly navigating several tons of metal, glass, and plastic flying down the way. It is unacceptable to be distracted (by electronic devices, especially for texting, or loud music or conversation), to be drugged (with intoxicants like alcohol or marijuana or prescription medications). If you are sleepy, angry, or frustrated, don’t work out your difficulties by driving and putting yourself and others at risk.
We’ve got a lot of work to do to make our streets and highways safer for us all.