Andrew Traub

US Road Deaths Rise 18%

The number of U.S. traffic deaths in the first six months of 2021 his 20,160, the highest first-half total since 2006 - a sign of increased reckless driving during the coronavirus pandemic.

The estimated number was 18.4% higher than the first half of 2020, prompting Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to call the increase an unacceptable crisis.

That percentage was the largest for a six-month period since the department began recording fatal crash data in 1975.

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.

The NHTSA also said behavioral research from March through June showed that speeding and traveling without a seat belt remain higher than before coronavirus pandemic. The agency has pointed to increasing road deaths, a trend for the last two years, on more reckless behavior on the roads.

Consumer groups have been urging the agency to move more quickly to boost road safety, pointing to increasing accidents and a years-long backlog in implementing safety rules. An Associated Press review of rule-making by the NHTSA found at least 13 auto-safety rules past due, including a rear seat belt reminder requirement passed by Congress in 2012 that was to be implemented by 2015.

The latest spike in fatalities came as people drove more as pandemic shutdowns eased. Preliminary data from the Federal Highway Administration showed that vehicle miles traveled in the first six months of the year rose by 173.1 billion miles, about a 13% increase from last 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.

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