Estimates released in May by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show 42,915 people — an average of 117 people every day — died on the nation’s roads last year.
This means traveling on U.S. roads is the deadliest it’s been since 2005 — it’s deadlier than any other mode of transportation by far.
And according to an early estimate of 2021 traffic fatalities by the Governors Highway Safety Association, Florida accounted for 899 pedestrian fatalities — an increase of more than 25 percent over the 716 reported in 2020. More than one in every 10 pedestrian fatalities in the U.S. happened in the Sunshine State.
I, for one, am outraged. Where is our collective outrage over the needless loss of life on our nation’s roadways?
Since I became Chair of the National Transportation Safety Board last August, I have met the mothers and fathers, children and grandparents, friends, and colleagues of people lost to traffic violence.
I tell them the NTSB won’t stop fighting until it’s safe for everyone to use our roads, whether they’re walking to school, riding their bike to a neighborhood store, catching the bus, or driving home to be with their families.
I tell them the NTSB’s work isn’t finished until no one else has to feel their pain.
The full force of the NTSB is working to turn the tide: fully half of our Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements is dedicated to roadway safety.
The NTSB has repeatedly called on regulators, lawmakers at the federal and state level, manufacturers, road designers and engineers, to adopt a holistic approach to safety guided by the belief that humans will make mistakes … but it should never cost a person their life on the road.
This is known as the safe system approach and it includes everything from safer vehicles that include the latest technologies, to engineering redundancy into our built environment, to eliminating habits like distracted or impaired driving, to better post-crash care and protocols. All of these changes work together to protect road users because even one death is one too many.
But not all trips are created equal in terms of risk. The truth is that some roads’ users are safer than others.
The most vulnerable road users (VRUs) are those at the greatest risk of serious injury or death when crashes occur. This includes bicyclists, motorcyclists, pedestrians, people with disabilities, and children. Unlike those traveling by motor vehicle, VRUs lack an external structure to protect them.
According to NHTSA, U.S. pedestrian fatalities jumped 13% last year, while the fatality rates for bicyclists and motorcyclists were 5% and 9%, respectively. That’s why the NTSB’s Most Wanted List for 2021-2022 emphasizes protecting VRUs.
Proven, effective countermeasures are being underused at the federal, state and local levels to protect pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists. In fact, in 2018 and 2019, the NTSB published three reports on the risks to these vulnerable populations and issued more than 30 recommendations focused on reducing VRU traffic deaths, such as by strengthening vehicle design standards and improving data collection.
We know how to solve this crisis. We have told the U.S. Department of Transportation, state and local governments, and vehicle manufacturers how to reduce fatalities. They must take action now. We cannot wait any longer.
We owe it to the families of the 42,915 people lost on our roads last year.