Statement on Traffic Fatality Spike During First Quarter of 2021

  • September 2, 2021
150 150 Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 2, 2021
CONTACT: Pete Daniels / / 301-442-2249 (C)


Statement from Cathy Chase, President of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates), on Traffic Fatality Spike During First Quarter of 2021


New estimates by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reveal the continuation of a deadly upward trend and underscore the urgent need to advance proven solutions to reduce crashes, injuries and deaths.


The first three months of 2021 were exceptionally deadly on our roadways according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).  An estimated 8,730 people were killed in crashes during this period, an increase of about 10.5 percent compared to the first quarter of 2020.  The number of fatalities in the first quarter of 2021 and the fatality rate is the highest our nation has experienced since 2007, surpassing the high level set in 2020.  This uptick is especially alarming considering traffic, expressed in vehicle miles traveled (VMT), actually decreased by just over two percent.

The U.S. House of Representatives advanced numerous urgently needed vehicle safety upgrades, including automatic emergency braking (AEB), with passage of the INVEST in America Act.  Unfortunately, similar provisions to advance these critical solutions in the Senate’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act are lacking directives to ensure the upgrades protect all road users and are completed by deadlines, among other deficits that fail to meet this moment.

The surge in motor vehicle crash fatalities must serve as an urgent call to action for Congress and the Biden Administration.   Requirements and performance standards for proven vehicle safety technology could be saving tens of thousands of lives each year.  The needless deaths on our roads must – and can – be stopped.


Statement on Labor Day and Needed Auto Safety Improvements from Cathy Chase, President of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates)

Holiday weekend travel combined with recent increases in dangerous driving behaviors highlight urgent need to advance proven solutions to protect roadway workers and all road users.   

As the Labor Day holiday approaches, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates) thanks construction and maintenance workers, commercial motor vehicle drivers, law enforcement officers, first responders and all others who do their essential jobs on our roadways.  Ensuring their safety and that of all road users is of urgent importance as motor vehicle crash fatalities this year are appearing to outpace 2020 when the national total reached a 13-year high of nearly 40,000 people killed.  In FloridaMichiganMissouriTennesseeArizona and elsewhere, media reports citing state and local officials point to a rise in crash fatalities due to well-known causes such as speeding, impaired driving and lack of seat belt use.

Adding to the dangers facing those whose “office” is the roadway are vehicles with automated driving features that may fail to recognize a roadside emergency scene and collide with fire trucks, ambulances or patrol cars.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently announced an investigation of 11 such crashes involving the use of Tesla’s Autopilot and Traffic Aware Cruise Control.  This investigation along with the agency’s June 29 standing order requiring crash reporting for vehicles equipped with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and varying levels of automated driving systems (ADS) are welcomed and necessary actions.  Advocates has long called for required data collection and access, and transparency necessary for the public, researchers, investigators, regulators, and other stakeholders to properly assess the performance of ADAS and ADS.  Moreover, it is imperative that performance standards are established to protect everyone inside and outside vehicles equipped with ADAS and ADS.

The INVEST in America Act (H.R. 3684), which was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on July 1, would require the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to issue requirements and performance standards for game-changing vehicle safety technologies.  It includes deadlines for compliance and clear directives that the technology detects and responds to pedestrians, bicyclists and other vulnerable road users (VRUs).  Among these are requirements for automatic emergency braking (AEB) in new passenger vehicles, school buses and large commercial trucks, as well as requirements for blind spot detection (BSD), lane departure warning (LDW) and impaired driving prevention technology, among others.  The legislation also moves the ball forward on driver monitoring technology, which holds the promise to prevent or mitigate crashes caused by drunk, drugged, drowsy or distracted driving, while also providing a means for preventing automation complacency among drivers whose vehicles are equipped with automated driving features.

The proven vehicle safety technology innovations required by this bill could save more than 70,000 lives over its five-year time span, a very conservative estimate.  According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, equipping all cars, pickup trucks, vans, minivans, and SUVs with AEB alone could prevent 1.9 million crashes, nearly 900,000 injuries, and more than 4,700 deaths annually.  Additionally, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) estimates more than 9,000 lives could be saved each year if impaired driving prevention technology is widely deployed.  Unfortunately, provisions in the Senate-passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act pale in comparison to the House bill and will not meaningfully address the horrific physical, emotional and economic toll of motor vehicle crashes.  Our elected and appointed officials can and must do better to protect all road users.

Advocates is not alone in this call for action.  The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently reaffirmed its recommendation to require collision avoidance technology in all new vehicles, a part of its Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements.  Advocates thanks the NTSB for its dedication to safety and recognizes its new Chair Jennifer Homendy, who throughout her time on the Board has maintained a laser-like focus on identifying dangerous safety gaps and saving lives.

Congress and the Biden Administration have a ready opportunity to pave the path for progress and save tens of thousands of lives with proven solutions.  Now is the time to prioritize the safety of all road users for years to come in the infrastructure package.


Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety is an alliance of consumer, medical, public health, law enforcement, and safety groups and insurance companies and agents working together to improve road safety in the U.S.  Advocates’ mission is the adoption of federal and state laws, policies and programs that prevent motor vehicle crashes, save lives, reduce injuries, and contain costs.