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NHTSA Releases Q1 2021 Traffic Fatality Estimates


Car accidents are always awful, but when someone is badly hurt or killed in a car accident, it is truly a tragedy. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration keeps track of how many fatal car accidents there are every year to try to learn from the cause of the car accident and to hopefully learn how they can be prevented. On September 2, 2021,  NHTSA released the Early Estimate of Motor Vehicle Traffic Fatalities for the First Quarter of 2021 based on preliminary data reported by the Federal Highway Administration.

The report notes that “due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, there were marked increases in fatalities and the fatality rate per 100 million VMT in 2020. This trend has continued into 2021. In the first quarter of 2021 the increased fatalities (10.5%) combined with the decreased VMT (-2.1%) also resulted in a large increase of the fatality rate per 100 million VMT (1.26), as compared to the fatality rate 1.12 in the first quarter of 2020.”

In a release, the NHTSA announced that it “estimates 8,730 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in the first three months of 2021, a 10.5% increase from the 7,900 fatalities the agency projected for the first quarter of 2020.  These increases in fatalities come even as driving declined; preliminary data reported by the Federal Highway Administration show that vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in the first three months of 2021 decreased by 2.1%, or about 14.9 billion miles. The fatality rates per 100 million VMT for the first quarter of 2021 increased to 1.26 fatalities per 100 million VMT, up from the projected rate of 1.12 fatalities in the same time last year.

These early estimates suggest the driving patterns and behaviors the agency reported in 2020, which changed significantly from previous years, continue to prevail and that drivers who remained on the roads engaged in more risky behavior, including speeding, failing to wear seat belts, and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

NHTSA is continuing to gather and finalize data on crash fatalities for 2019 and 2020 using information from police crash reports and other sources. The final file for 2019 as well as the annual report file for 2020 will be available in late fall of 2021 that usually results in the revision of fatality totals and the ensuing fatality rates and percentage changes.”

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