DETROIT (AP) — The number of U.S. traffic deaths in the first six months of 2021 hit 20,160, the highest first-half total since 2006, the government reported Thursday, a sign of growing reckless driving during the coronavirus pandemic.

The estimated number was 18.4% higher than the first half of last year, prompting Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to call the increase an unacceptable crisis. 

That percentage increase was the biggest six-month increase since the department began recording fatal crash data since 1975. 

The department, which includes the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, announced that it will develop a national strategy for steps to save lives on the roads.

The latest spike in fatalities came as people drove more as pandemic shutdowns eased. Preliminary data from the Federal Highway Administration show that vehicle miles traveled in the first six months of the year rose by 173.1 billion miles, around a 13% increase from last year. 

The death rate for the first half of this year rose to 1.34 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. It’s up from 1.28 deaths per 100 million miles in the first half of 2020, the agency said. 

The Transportation Department said its strategy would follow a “safe system approach” to road safety that identifies safety action for drivers, roads, vehicles, speeds and post-crash medical care. The strategy will be released in January, the department said. It also has pointed to plans to start moving on some of the proposed safety regulations, although the agency has often missed past deadlines, even those promised in federal court.

Source: AP