PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – The number of motor vehicle crash fatalities in the U.S. is moving in the wrong direction, according to the latest report released Tuesday by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.
The National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration said in the first six months of 2021, 20,160 people died in motor vehicle crashes. That’s an 18.4% increase over 2020.
In a news conference Tuesday, Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said that some states are reporting that total crash deaths in 2021 surpassed those reported in 2020 and that numbers reported in some states are higher than they’ve been in over a decade. She said these deaths occurred at a time when there were still fewer drivers on the road as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“What’s really important is that we don’t lose sight that these facts and figures represent people, their family members, friends and loved ones who are being tragically impacted by preventable losses and serious, debilitating injuries,” Chase said.
Speeding and people not wearing seatbelts were cited as leading contributors to more crashes, more injuries and more deaths. Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety believes improvements to traffic laws in states across the U.S. will help mitigate traffic fatalities and injuries.
The group published its annual report Tuesday in which it details 16 optimal laws it feels all states should enforce in order to prevent auto crashes and injuries. The report also rates states based on how many of these laws they already have implemented.
Both Oregon and Washington ranked among the top nine states for traffic safety laws. Both states currently enforce 11 of the 16 laws Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety are pushing for.
The group would like to see Oregon to add the following laws: require the minimum age for a learner’s permit to be 16, require 50 hours of supervised driving time before a person can upgrade to a Graduated Driver License, implement a nighttime driving restriction for teenage drivers, limit the number of people allowed to ride with teenage drivers without adult supervision to no more than one non-familial passenger who is under the age of 21, and require drivers to be at least 18 before they can get an unrestricted license.
For Washington, the group says the state has adequate requirements for supervised driving time, but still recommends the state make the minimum age required for a learner’s permit 16, and implement a nighttime driver restriction and limit the number of people allowed to ride with teenage drivers. It also asks Washington to increase the minimum age to 18 to allow teens to get an unrestricted license. Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety also said Washington should require children who have outgrown the height and weight requirements for a forward-facing safety seat to use a booster seat until the child is 57 inches tall and age 8 or older.
The Oregon Department of Transportation said it recently received $1.2 billion in transportation funding that will be used on projects intended to save more lives and reduce the severity of crash-related injuries.
ODOT plans to use the money to better address and prevent crashes where drivers strike other vehicles and people who are stopped along the roadside. It also plans to use the money to educate the public on law enforcement practices during traffic stops and train law enforcement on improving the safety of its interaction with the public during stops.
It also plans to invest in making bridges safer during a major earthquake and make infrastructure more resilient to the effects of climate change.
Oregon’s goal for fiscal year 2022 was to have 468 or fewer traffic fatalities. ODOT said it is not done confirming the 2020 traffic fatality data, let alone 2021. However, officials say they do know traffic fatalities in the state are up since the start of the pandemic.
KOIN 6 News asked the Washington State Department of Transportation if it’s pushing for any new laws in 2022 to improve traffic safety in the state. WSDOT has not yet responded to KOIN’s inquiry. In October 2021, WSDOT said it was hoping to have fewer than 437.3 traffic fatalities in 2022.