U.S. Traffic Fatalities Reach 16-Year High

The National Safety Council estimates 450 people may lose their lives on U.S. roads during Memorial Day weekend in preventable crashes. Traditionally Memorial Day weekend has been one of the deadliest holiday’s for North Dakotans on the road. 2021 marked the deadliest Memorial Day in the past five years, with 4 people losing their lives on the road. According to newly released estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), U.S. roads are the most dangerous they’ve been in 16 years; roadway fatalities increased 10.5% in 2021 as compared to 2020.

With Memorial Day being one of the most dangerous driving weekends of the year, NSC urges all people who choose to drive to plan ahead and practice safe driving behaviors. Memorial Day extends from 6 p.m. Friday, May 27, to 11:59 p.m. Monday, May 30.

In 2021 there were 101 roadway fatalities according to the NDDOT, there were 100 in 2020. 94% of those fatalities were caused by preventable human behavior. Seat belts, lane departure and alcohol all contributed significantly to motor vehicle fatalities.

“Over 100 people die every day on our roads, and that number is climbing,” said Mark Chung, executive vice president, roadway practice, at NSC. “Both NSC and NHTSA have estimated significant increases in traffic deaths this past year, putting us at a 16-year high. It’s devastating to see progress lost, and more important than ever that each individual steps up, takes safety personally and does their part to reverse this horrible trend.”

The National Safety Council implores all drivers to make the right choices this holiday weekend to ensure everyone makes it to their destinations safely. Safe driving tips to consider this Memorial Day weekend include:

1. Buckle up: Lack of seat belt use is a top cause of fatalities in crashes. Buckle up, while also making sure you have appropriate car seats installed correctly.

2. Designate a sober driver or arrange alternate transportation: Holidays are a cause for celebration, but alcohol is only one cause of impaired driving. Drugs, including opioids, marijuana and some over-the-counter medicines, can cause drowsiness, alter visual functions and affect mental judgment and motor skills.

3. Slow down: Speeding is a factor in more than a quarter of all traffic fatalities. Drive below the speed limit. Be sure to pay close attention to those walking and biking in order to keep all road users safe.

4. Prepare before you go: Before hitting the road, make sure your car is safe for driving. Vehicle owners should check the oil, put air in the tires, and check for and repair open recalls. Visit ChecktoProtect.org to see if your vehicle has an open recall, and get it repaired for free.

5. Drive distraction-free: Thousands have died in car crashes involving cell phone use. Put your phones away and #JustDrive.

6. Look before you lock: Pediatric vehicular heatstroke is still the leading cause of non-crash motor vehicle-related fatality for children. Since 1998, more than 900 children in the U.S. have died because of this completely preventable tragedy. Always check your back seat for children or animals when you reach your destination.

Additionally, nearly one year ago, NSC and partners called for confirmed leaders at key Department of Transportation safety agencies in light of increasing roadway fatalities. Today, NHTSA and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) still lack confirmed leaders. With this crisis on our roadways, NSC continues to urge action to nominate —where needed — and confirm leaders at these key agencies.

Review supplemental information about the Memorial Day holiday fatality estimates and additional motor vehicle data and research at injuryfacts.nsc.org.

Information contributed by the National Safety Council and Vision Zero ND.