NHTSA Report Shows Traffic Fatalities Continue to Climb

police officer arriving to scene of two-car accident

While vehicle safety technology and features continue to improve, traffic fatalities have reached a record high. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an estimated 42,915 people died in motor vehicle accidents in 2021, an alarming 10.5% increase from the previous year.

Why is this number so high, and what is causing these accidents? Our wrongful death lawyer team shares significant fatality rate numbers and what you should know to keep you and your family members safe.

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How do 2021 fatal car accident stats compare to 2020?

In NHTSA’s early estimates of motor vehicle fatalities in 2021, the report shows some drastic jumps in fatalities in specific categories compared to 2020. Some of these fatality increases include these sub-categories:

  • 21% – On-road crashes
  • 20% – Urban collector/local crashes
  • 16% – Multi-vehicle crashes
  • 15% – Fatal crashes on rural interstate roads
  • 15% – Urban arterial crashes
  • 15% – During out-of-state travel
  • 13% – Crashes involving at least one large truck

Although some stats went down for specific months, the overall year-to-year averages increased in 2021. In fact, the estimated amount of motor vehicle fatalities in 2021 is the highest number since 2005.

What age group was most affected by the increase in fatal motor vehicle accidents?

Overall, the most significant increase in fatal car accidents in the United States involved people between the ages of 35 and 44. The estimated data shows a 15% increase in fatalities from 2020 to 2021 in this age group. However, there was also an average annual increase in deaths in other age groups:

  • Less than 16 years of age – 6% increase
  • Ages 16-24 – 7% increase
  • Ages 25-34 – 10% increase
  • Ages 35-44 – 15% increase
  • Ages 45-54 – 12% increase
  • Ages 65 and older – 14% increase

In the age group with the highest increase in motor vehicle fatalities (35-44), the total number of deaths was 6,714 in 2021 compared to 5,862 in 2020. The lowest statistical group (<16) involved 1,379 fatalities in 2021 and 1,299 in 2020.

What region saw the highest increase in car accident deaths?

Regional estimates also show that fatal car accidents increased across the country in 2021. The most significant increase was 19% in Region 10, which includes Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, and Alaska. Here are the 2021 regional percentage increases in motor vehicle deaths:

  • Region 1 (VT, MA, ME, NH, RI) – 14%
  • Region 2 (NY, PA, CT, NJ) – 12%
  • Region 3 (MD, DE, DC, KY, WV, NC, VA) – 6%
  • Region 4 (TN, AL, SC, GA, FL) – 10%
  • Region 5 (MN, WI, IL, MI, IN, OH) – 9 %
  • Region 6 (NM, TX, OK, LA, MS) – 16%
  • Region 7 (NE, IA, KS, MO, AR) – 3%
  • Region 8 (ND, SD, WY, NV, UT, CO) – 12%
  • Region 9 (CA, AZ, HI) – 10%
  • Region 10 (WA, MT, OR, ID, AK) – 19%

What percentage of fatalities included the driver of the car?

The estimated numbers reported by the NHTSA include all deaths related to motor vehicle accidents. This means the totals often combine deaths of the driver of the vehicle, passengers, pedestrians, motorcyclists, and bicyclists. If you look at these numbers broken down, the percentage changes from 2020 to 2021 are as follows:

  • Driver fatalities – 12% increase
  • Passenger fatalities – 9% increase
  • Pedestrian fatalities – 13% increase
  • Motorcyclist fatalities – 9% increase
  • Bicyclist fatalities – 5% increase

Rises in driver deaths occurred in January and May and from July to November in 2021. The total number of driver fatalities was 21,837 compared to 19,519 in 2020.

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What factors led to the 2021 increase in fatal motor vehicle crashes?

According to the data in the NHTSA report, a large proportion of the increased fatalities are related to roadway and environmental factors. There are also vehicle-related characteristics and person-related characteristics which factor into the increase in deadly car accidents. Additionally, large trucks contributed to increased fatalities in several sub-categories.

1. Roadway and Environmental Factors

  • Urban Areas – In urban areas, the total estimated fatalities were up by 16%. The percentage of car accident deaths went up 15% for the “urban arterial” stats, which the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) classifies as high-capacity urban roads that are not part of the interstate system.
  • Nighttime – Accident deaths between 6:00 pm and 5:59 am increased by 11% from 2020 to 2021.
  • Weekend – Fatal crashes went up by 11% during the weekends, this period being classified as 6:00 pm on Friday to 5:59 am on Monday.

2. Vehicle-Related Factors

  • Older vehicles – Vehicles 10 years or older were involved in a 2% increase in fatal car accidents.
  • Newer vehicle – Fatalities increased by 10% in motor vehicles less than 10 years old.
  • Multi-vehicle crashes – Accident fatalities that involved more than one motor vehicle went up by 16%.
  • Speeding – Speeding-related fatalities were up 5% from 2020 to 2021. However, that number also increased from 2019 to 2020 by 17%, making this additional 5% jump more significant than it appears.

3. Person-Related Factors

  • Male – Deaths involving males increased by 10% in 2021.
  • Female – Estimated female fatalities related to motor vehicle accidents rose by 12%.
  • Alcohol – Police-reported, alcohol-involved deadly crashes increased by 5% in 2021, further compounding the alarming increase of 16% from 2019 to 2020.
  • Seat belt – The number of unrestrained passenger vehicle (PV) occupant fatalities went up by 3% in 2021.

4. Fatalities Involving Large Trucks

large commercial truck with car accident collision damage

Deaths that resulted from motor vehicle accidents that involved at least one large truck, both commercial and non-commercial, increased by 13%.

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What can I do if I lost a loved one in a fatal car accident?

If you lost a loved one due to another person’s negligence or careless actions, you may qualify to seek justice through the civil court system. Call our wrongful death law firm to speak with a fatal car accident lawyer to discuss your legal options and how we can help.

Wrongful death claims help surviving family members with getting justice and receiving compensation for damages, such as:

  • Medical bills
  • Funeral and burial costs
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of companionship

We’re ready to help you through this difficult time and rebuild your life with the financial support you deserve. Contact the Elite Litigation Group now for a free consultation.


National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). (17 May 2022). Newly Released Estimates Show Traffic Fatalities Reached a 16-Year High in 2021.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). (April 2022). Early Estimate of Motor Vehicle Traffic Fatalities in 2021.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). (May 2022). Early Estimates of Motor Vehicle Traffic Fatalities And Fatality Rate by Sub-Categories in 2021.Federal Highway Administration (FHA). (November 2000). Road Function Classification.