Traffic fatalities up across the board in 2021, including large trucks

May 17, 2022

Tyson Fisher


The second year of the pandemic proved to be deadlier on the roadways, even for truckers, with the largest annual percentage increase in traffic fatalities on record.

Compared to 2020, that National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is projecting traffic fatalities overall increased by about 10.5% in 2021. NHTSA estimates nearly 43,000 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes last year, up from nearly 39,000 in 2020. That is the most fatalities since 2005 when there were 43,510 deaths reported.

Specific to large trucks, fatal crashes involving at least one truck went up 13%.

The increase in large truck-involved traffic fatalities comes on the heels of a decrease in fatal crashes involving large trucks. In 2020, deaths resulting from a crash involving at least one large truck went down by 2% during a time when traffic deaths increased nearly across the board.

NHTSA defines a large truck as any vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 10,000 pounds. That includes large trucks both in commercial and non-commercial use at the time of the crash. Data does not reflect whether the truck driver was at fault.

Other large increases in traffic fatalities were seen in the following categories:

  • Rural interstate roads (up 15%), urban arterial (up 15%), and urban collector/local (up 20%).
  • Daytime crashes (up 11%).
  • Weekend crashes (up 11%).
  • Out-of-state travel (up 15%), reversing the trend seen in 2020.
  • Newer (vehicle age < 10 years) passenger vehicles (up 10%).
  • Multi-vehicle crashes (up 16%).
  • Speeding-related crashes (up 5%) – still higher as compared to the pre-pandemic levels of 2019.
  • 25-to-34 age group (up 10%), 35-to-44 age group (up 15%), 45-to-54 age group (up 12%), and 65-and-older age group (up 14%), reversing the declining trend in fatalities to those 65 and older seen in 2020.

However, the estimated traffic fatality rate for 2021 was 1.33 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. That is slightly down from the 1.34 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2020.

According to NHTSA, factors driving up last year’s traffic fatalities are the same factors that drove up increases in 2020.

“These key factors may be linked to changes in driving and travel patterns and transportation options owing to COVID-19 emergency measures,” NHTSA said in its report. “In 2020, the stay-at-home orders started in mid-March, followed by the first full month of stay-at-home measures in April. During May, some states began to reopen in some way while almost all states partially reopened by June. After June, states continued to adapt their local and statewide COVID-19 guidelines and assess specific reopening and potential re-closing efforts accordingly.”

NHTSA’s latest traffic fatality numbers are early estimates only. Estimated results are subject to change as more information gets coded into these cases as well as when more cases are entered into the 2021 Fatality Analysis Reporting System, according to NHTSA. Results may also change as the final file for 2020 fatality counts and the annual reporting file for 2021 are available later this year.

To see the full report, click here. LL