U.S. Car Crashes: A Tragic Trend That Must Be Addressed Urgently


Road accidents in the United States have been increasing during the pandemic, and they are not just resulting in whiplash injuries. According to ABC News and the Los Angeles Times,  federal data shows that from January to June 2021, 20,160 people died of vehicular crashes. That was the highest six-month death toll for road accidents since 2006. In the first nine months of 2021, there were 31,720 vehicular accident fatalities. The number is 12 percent higher than the vehicular deaths in the first nine months of 2020. That is the highest year-on-year increase since 1975 when the Department of Transportation (DOT) began tracking vehicular crash fatalities. The 2021 deaths are also 33 percent higher than those in the last ten years.

The Explanation

The situation seems illogical because fewer motorists are on the road during the pandemic. The Guardian reports on how experts explain it.

Transportation for America’s policy director, Benito Perez, points out that the road system in the country is designed for speed. When fewer vehicles are on the road, those vehicles tend to go faster. Texas A&M University transportation safety expert Tara Goddard agrees and adds that people drive more aggressively, with more distraction. She likewise notes the increase in the number of crashes due to driving under the influence (DUI) of liquor or illegal substances.

Another major reason for many of the fatalities in vehicular accidents was the failure to wear seatbelts. People were, therefore, thrown out of the vehicles. The popularity of huge sports utility vehicles (SUVs) also increases the risk of death when pedestrians are hit. Goddard highlights, as well, that pedestrian crossings and lighting in U.S. roads are poor.

New Government Action

On January 27 this year, DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced the department’s National Roadway Safety Strategy. It is the first time that a federal strategy has been drawn up with the goal to reduce vehicle accident fatalities to zero. Secretary Buttigieg stated that it is a response to the road crisis that is causing 3,000 deaths monthly.

To prevent more cases of DUI and keep unsafe drivers from the wheel, the plan proposes the establishment of a national clearinghouse for standardizing regulations in licensing. Vehicle manufacturers are urged to include available technology in which ignition systems detect the level of liquor from a driver’s breath. This is estimated to save 7,000 lives annually.

In line with the New Car Assessment Program that will change the safety ratings of new vehicles, the DOT plan also calls on vehicle manufacturers to include more technologies that will help prevent collisions and reduce the harm of impacts on vehicle occupants and pedestrians. This includes automatic emergency braking, for instance.

The DOT plan holds that the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) street-design guidelines need change. Streets must be redesigned to promote safe speeds, foster safer road actions, minimize human errors, and enable the safe travel of the most vulnerable people. This means more infrastructure like bicycle lanes and bus lanes and better crosswalks supporting pedestrians, cyclists, and public transit commuters. Street lighting must be improved. Well-designed streets are self-enforcing, according to the plan. Also, speed limits must be lowered.

The plan includes what should happen when a crash occurs. It focuses on the survival of all the people involved by calling for immediate emergency medical care. The safety of the first responders must be ensured, and secondary crashes must be prevented through best practices in traffic incident management. There must be close coordination among the emergency teams, transportation services, and hospitals.

The DOT will provide grants to states totaling $5 billion throughout the next two years. In addition, there is a separate $4 billion fund in the Highway Safety Improvement Program. Both are in the infrastructure law of President Joseph Biden.

More Recommendations

According to Curbed, many experts are lauding the new DOT strategy because it aligns with the decades-long calls from road safety advocates. There are some recommendations for improvement, though.

While the plan addresses DUI cases, there is no action on distracted driving. Experts state that the government can require vehicle manufacturers to include technology that tracks the driver’s eye movements. The government can also regulate the increasing number and sizes of distracting screens for infotainment on dashboards.

The experts agreed on requiring more safety features in new vehicles. They highlighted, however, that manufacturers will most likely fight these requirements. Many years will pass before these will be in place, and even more years before such vehicles become affordable to people with lower incomes.

Another thing that worries the experts more is the lack of mention of regulations on the weights and sizes of SUVs and light trucks. They link the growing crisis in pedestrian safety to these large and heavy vehicles.

There is always room for improvement. The good news is that both the government and the advocates work toward the same goal.