Preliminary figures released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reveal that traffic accidents claimed almost 43,000 lives in 2021, and data from the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety shows that road deaths in the Grand Canyon State are at their highest level in 15 years. Car accident fatalities have increased by almost a third in the last decade, and many government officials and road safety advocacy groups say negligent and reckless drivers are mostly to blame.
Vulnerable road users pay the heaviest price
The figures show that road deaths rose by 6.5% in Arizona and by 10.5% across the country in 2021, and the most vulnerable road users paid a particularly heavy price. Motorcyclist, cyclist and pedestrian deaths all rose sharply, and the number of senior citizens killed in motor vehicle accidents increased by 14%.
Speeding, drinking and distraction
When questioned about rising traffic fatalities, federal and state officials blamed the increase in accidents on bad habits that drivers picked up when travel restrictions emptied the nation’s roads. The NHTSA data shows that speed-related traffic deaths both rose by 14% in 2020 and 5% in 2021, which adds some weight to this argument.
Investing in safety
The traditional response to rising road deaths has been stricter laws and more rigorous policing, and this approach has been credited by safety groups for greatly reducing drunk driving deaths in Arizona. Lawmakers now believe that investment is needed to make the roads safer, so billions of dollars has been earmarked to fund a Safe Street and Roads for All initiative. Arizona is expected to receive $5.3 billion from the program to build or improve roads and bridges, and the state will also be allocated $36 million to invest in highway safety programs. Those efforts will not bear fruit for years, but we all should hope that they are successful.