DETROIT (AP) — Nearly 43,000 people were killed on U.S. roads last year, the highest number in 16 years as Americans returned to the highways after the pandemic forced many to stay at home.
The 10.5% jump over 2020 numbers was the largest percentage increase since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began its fatality data collection system in 1975.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said America faces a crisis on its roads. The safety administration urged state and local governments, drivers and safety advocates to join in an effort to reverse the rising death trend.
Preliminary figures released Tuesday by the agency show that 42,915 people died in traffic crashes last year, up from 38,824 in 2020. Final figures will be released in the fall.
Americans drove about 325 billion miles last year, 11.2% higher than in 2020, which contributed to the increase.
Traffic deaths began to spike in 2019. NHTSA has blamed reckless driving behavior for increases during the pandemic, citing behavioral research showing that speeding and traveling without a seat belt have been higher. Before 2019, the number of fatalities had fallen for three straight years.