In the first three months of this year, more than 9,500 people were killed in traffic mishaps around the U.S.. The total represents the deadliest start to a year on U.S. roads in two decades. In seven states and Washington, D.C., officials estimated crash deaths jumped at least 50 percent reports the Washington Post. Officials say a surge in traffic fatalities that started in 2020 as the pandemic began has continued. Experts have struggled to come up with an explanation for the spike in deaths, but have pointed to less congestion amid changed driving patterns during the pandemic, which they say has allowed for more dangerous speeds. Officials also note that there’s evidence of an increase in reckless behavior, such as driving impaired or without wearing a seat belt.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported the number of 2021 traffic deaths as 8,935. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is working to reduce crash deaths, pledging to adopt a “safe system” approach that would look as much at the design of roads and cars as the behavior of individual drivers. The effort is backed by billions in new safety funding from last year’s infrastructure law. The law included mandates for technology that could address some of the biggest causes of fatalities, such as calling for NHTSA to require breath monitoring devices for alcohol in cars. The system is in testing, and a mandate is likely years away. Jonathan Adkins of the Governors Highway Safety Association said the success of the administration’s strategy “demands that all levels of government be bold and aggressive in making our roadways safer and a strong NHTSA can and should lead that charge.”