More Americans died in traffic accidents in the first six months of 2021 than in any other first-half period since 2006, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, in a report released Thursday. The report also said more people drove more miles and engaged in risky behavior behind the wheel.
Deaths from January to June of this year jumped 18.4% from the first six months of 2020, the largest six-month increase since the department began tracking traffic fatalities in 1975. U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, in a statement released alongside the report, called the situation a “crisis.”
“More than 20,000 people died on U.S. roads in the first six months of 2021, leaving countless loved ones behind,” Buttigieg said. “We cannot and should not accept these fatalities as simply a part of everyday life in America.”
For comparison, in the first half of 2019, 16,988 people died on U.S. roads, and in the first half of 2020, 17,020 people died, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The Fatality Analysis Reporting System, which tracks traffic deaths in the United States, found this year’s second-quarter percentage increase was the highest in the system’s history: More than 11,000 people died, according to the report, a 23% jump from the same period last year.
The worldwide coronavirus pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020.
Certain risky behaviors may have contributed to the spikes, according to a separate report published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Ejection rates, which are useful for gauging seat belt use, remain mostly higher this year than pre-pandemic levels but stayed below 2020 numbers since March. The report says people are driving slightly faster this year, too, suggesting alcohol and drug use has been higher in 2021 than in 2019 and 2020.
It may also be a matter of time spent on the road. The Federal Highway Administration reported vehicles traveled 173.1 billion more miles in the first half of 2021 than in the same period last year.
NHTSA’s findings have led the department to announce a first-of-its-kind initiative to curb traffic deaths. The National Roadway Safety Strategy will use public-private partnerships to “reverse the current trend” of highway fatalities. The strategy will be made public in January, according to a press release.