Truck Accident News: U.S. Traffic Deaths Surged in First Half of 2021

Traffic deaths surged in the first half of 2021, a sign that truckers and other motorists have not abandoned many of the reckless driving habits they’ve acquired during the Coronavirus pandemic.

The Killino Firm’s Truck Accident Lawyers believe the victims of negligent and careless drivers deserve compensation for their pain and suffering. If you or someone you love was injured or tragically killed in an 18-wheeler crash or other trucking-related accident, call our law firm toll-free at 1-877-875-2927 to speak with an attorney and learn more about your legal rights

20,000+ People Killed on U.S. Roads from January through June

According to early estimates from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), at least 20,106 traffic accident deaths occurred on the nation’s roads and highways during the first six months of 2021. That’s an increase of 18.4% compared to the first six months of 2020 and the largest number of fatalities projected for that period since 2006.

“This is a crisis. More than 20,000 people died on U.S. roads in the first six months of 2021, leaving countless loved ones behind,” said United States Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “We cannot and should not accept these fatalities as simply a part of everyday life in America.”

Every NHTSA region saw traffic fatalities spike during the first half of 2021:

  • Region 10, which encompasses Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, experienced a 26% increase,
  • Region 9, encompassing Arizona and California, experienced a 25% increase.
  • Region 8, including California, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming, also saw traffic deaths jump by 25%.
  • Region 5, including Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin, reported a 19% increase.
  • Region 4, including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee, saw a 22% increase.
  • Region 8, including Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Oklahoma, experienced an 18% increase.
  • Region 2, encompassing Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, saw a 13% increase.
  • Region 1, including Main, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont, experienced an 11% increase.
  • Region 3, which includes Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia, saw a 10% increase.
  • Region 7, encompassing Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska, reported an 8% increase.

More Americans are Taking Chances on the Road

Behavior research findings recently published by the NHTSA also suggest that an uptick in reckless driving behaviors – speeding, driving while impaired, distracted driving, and failure to wear a seatbelt – were behind the unprecedented surge.

“The report is sobering. It’s also a reminder of what hundreds of millions of people can do every day, right now, to combat this: Slow down, wear seat belts, drive sober, and avoid distractions behind the wheel,” said NHTSA Deputy Administrator Dr. Steven Cliff. “All of us must work together to stop aggressive, dangerous driving and help prevent fatal crashes.

Reckless driving has been rising since early 2020 when COVID-19 outbreaks caused much of the nation to shut down. The corresponding reduction in traffic volume produced a false sense of security among some motorists, who viewed the empty roadways as an excuse to speed, use their phones while driving, and take other chances behind the wheel.

Now, with traffic across the country mostly returned to normal — vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in the first half of 2021 increased by about 173.1 billion miles — far too many drivers have yet to abandon those dangerous behaviors.  As a result, the projected fatality rate for the first half of 2021 is 1.34 per 100 million VMT, up from the projected rate of 1.28 fatalities per 100 million VMT in the first half of 2020.

Are Pandemic Pressures Tempting Truckers to Drive More Recklessly?

Neither NHTSA report differentiates between passenger vehicles and commercial vehicles, including 18-wheelers and other heavy trucks. Nor did the agency compare accident and fatality rates between the two classes. But truckers have been under increasing strain in recent years, especially during the pandemic, and are likely engaging in many of the same reckless behaviors.

Even before the emergency of COVID-19, the trucking industry faced a severe shortage of experienced drivers. The pandemic has only exacerbated the situation, leading to additional safety concerns over the seasoned truckers leaving the industry and the younger, far less experienced drivers taking their place.

Many of those inexperienced truckers are also spending longer hours behind the wheel. In fact, early in the pandemic, the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) suspended the Hours-of-Service Rules, which aim to prevent fatigue-related truck and 18-wheeler crashes by limiting how long interstate commercial drivers can remain behind the wheel without taking a break or stopping to rest. The suspension has been extended several times since the pandemic began and is currently slated to expire at the end of November.

Even when the regulations were in full effect, the FMCSA’s Large Truck Causation Study found that 13% of commercial drivers were considered to be fatigued at the time of their crash. Meanwhile, 24% of truckers responding to a recent survey commissioned by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control said they “often” continued to drive despite fatigue, bad weather, or heavy traffic. Just under half said they continued doing so “sometimes.” Given the ongoing driver shortage, pandemic pressures, and related supply chain problems, it’s likely that even more truckers are driving while fatigued.

A disturbing number are also using drugs and alcohol while they’re on the road.  In fact, nearly 30,000 violations had already been reported to the FMCSA’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse during the first half of 2021. If reports continue at that pace through the second half of the year, the number of total violations logged by the database this year will surpass the nearly 56,000 reported during all of 2020.

How to Drive Safely Around Big Rigs

There’s little the average motorist can do to prevent truckers from engaging in risky, reckless, or illegal behavior. But there are precautions drivers can take to lessen the odds of a crash when 18-wheelers and other large trucks are nearby:

  • Avoid Blind Spots: Heavy commercial trucks have much larger blind-spot areas than traditional passenger vehicles. To avoid the blind spots, move ahead of the truck or slow down so the driver can see you in the side mirrors.
  • Pass Safely: Because their large, heavy vehicle can’t stop as quickly as a passenger vehicle, truckers need time to react and adjust their speed and brake accordingly. Always pass from the left side, maintain a consistent speed, and signal clearly in advance. Make sure you can see the rig in your rearview mirror before merging your vehicle back into the lane in front of the truck. Allow passing trucks plenty of space in front for the driver to maneuver safely and efficiently around your vehicle.
  • Give Yourself More Time: When changing lanes or turning near a commercial truck, activate your signal earlier to give the driver more time to respond and slow down if needed.
  • Increase Your Following Distance: Keep a driving distance of at least four seconds between your vehicle and a commercial truck. The driver of a big rig won’t see you if you’re tailgating. If the truck stops quickly or you’re rear-ended while following too closely, your vehicle could be pushed underneath the trailer. These so-called “underride” crashes are almost always catastrophic.
  • Be Alert for Wide Turns: Tractor-trailers require more room to turn than a passenger vehicle, and the cab and the trailer will both follow a different path. When stopped at an intersection, keep your vehicle safely behind the line to ensure trucks have the turning space they need. Never attempt to pass a truck with its turn signal on.

Whether or not you’re sharing the road with a big rig, always drive sober, stay focused on driving, wear your seatbelt, and avoid the urge to speed or engage in other dangerous driving behaviors.

Contact an Experienced Truck and 18-Wheeler Accident Lawyer

Unfortunately, even the most cautious motorist is often no match for a negligent or reckless trucker.

The Killino Firm’s Truck Accident Lawyers have a successfully record representing truck and 18-wheeler accidents victims and possess the experience needed to take on the trucking company attorneys and file a lawsuit on your behalf.

If you suffered personal injuries or experienced the wrongful death of a loved one in a trucking-related crash, please do not hesitate to contact us at 1-877-875- 2927.