(NewsNation) —It was a record-setting year for traffic deaths in 2021 as fatalities on the road hit their highest mark in 16 years, setting a record for the largest year-over-year increase on record.
Deaths went up in 44 U.S. states — led by Texas, California and Florida — as nearly 43,000 people were killed on U.S. roads in 2021, a 10.5% increase from 2020 when the pandemic kept people at home.
The Department of Transportation announced a plan to spend $6 billion over a five-year period on road-safety projects in an effort to combat traffic deaths.
Dylan Rivera, the public information officer for the Portland Bureau of Transportation, said the pandemic played a “surprisingly large role” in the increase in traffic deaths.
Americans drove 325 billion more miles in 2021, an 11.2% increase over 2020.
“Early in the pandemic we saw people staying home and we thought maybe they’re traveling less, there are fewer people traveling to work because fewer jobs, maybe traffic deaths will go down, that’s what normally happens in a recession” Rivera said. “The opposite happened in 2020 and 2021. We saw traffic deaths surging.”
Safety improvements to infrastructure and automated enforcement with cameras had been working to reduce traffic deaths in high-fatality areas, Rivera said.
“Those are high crash corridors, multilane streets, we’re talking four- and five- lane streets or more in some communities, where we can put protective bike lanes on them, where we can reduce speed limit, where we can take out that unrestricted center turn lane and put some medians in there to reduce the chaos,” Rivera said.
He called it a “very disturbing” national trend they are working hard to solve at the local level. Rivera added he was happy to see the Biden administration “taking it seriously as well.”
“Everyone still needs to be mindful, pay attention when you’re driving and look for people biking and walking especially,” Rivera said.
Automakers also have a large role to play in reducing deaths, Rivera stressed. He said automakers need to work on reducing the size of the front ends of vehicles because it reduces the fatality rate of crashes.
Deaths last year increased in almost all types of crashes, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported. Crashes occurring during out-of-state travel jumped 15%, compared to 2020, many of them on rural interstate roads or access roads off city highways. Fatalities in urban areas and deaths in multivehicle crashes each rose 16%. Pedestrian deaths were up 13%, while fatalities among drivers 65 and older rose 14%.
Fatalities involving at least one big truck were up 13%, while motorcycle deaths were up 9% and deaths of bicyclists rose 5%. Fatalities involving speeding drivers and deaths in alcohol-related crashes each were up 5%.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.