The number of U.S. traffic deaths in the first half of 2021 hit 20,160, the highest first-half total since 2006, the government reported Thursday.
The estimated number was 18.4% higher than the first half of last year, prompting Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to call the increase an unacceptable crisis.
The department, which includes the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, announced that it will develop a national strategy for steps to save lives on the roads.
“"We cannot and should not accept these fatalities as simply a part of everyday life in America," Buttigieg said in a statement Thursday. “No one will accomplish this alone. It will take all levels of government, industries, advocates, engineers and communities across the country working together toward the day when family members no longer have to say good-bye to loved ones because of a traffic crash.”
NHTSA also said that behavioral research from March through June showed that speeding and traveling without a seat belt remain higher than before the coronavirus pandemic. The agency in the past has blamed increasing road deaths on more reckless behavior on the roads.
The increase came as people drove more as pandemic shutdowns eased. Preliminary data from the Federal Highway Administration show that vehicle miles traveled in the first six months of the year rose by 173.1 billion miles, around a 13% increase from the previous year.
The death rate for the first half of this year rose to 1.34 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. It's up from 1.28 deaths per 100 million miles in the first half of 2020, the agency said.
NHTSA Deputy Administrator Steven Cliff urged drivers to slow down, wear seat belts, drive sober and avoid distractions.
“All of us must work together to stop aggressive, dangerous driving,” he said.
The DOT said in a statement its strategy would follow a “safe system approach” to road safety that identifies safety action for drivers, roads, vehicles, speeds and post-crash medical care. The strategy will be released in January, the department’s statement said.
© Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.