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In terms of traffic deaths on highways in the United States, 2021 isn't looking good. Finalized statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) aren't available just yet, but estimates point to another significant year-over-year increase in fatalities. In fact, it could be a record-setting increase.

42,915 people are believed to have died in vehicle crashes in 2021. The figure represents a 16-year high, and it's a 10.8-percent increase from the 38,824 deaths recorded in 2020. Provided the final tally holds around 43,000, it will be the largest single-year increase in the history of the NHTSA's Fatality Analysis Reporting System.

"This crisis on our roads is urgent and preventable," said Dr. Steven Cliff, NHTSA's deputy administrator. "We will redouble our safety efforts, and we need everyone – state and local governments, safety advocates, automakers, and drivers – to join us. All of our lives depend on it."

With new vehicles brandishing all kinds of driver-assist and safety systems, what's driving the increase in fatalities? For starters, preliminary data shows that more miles were driven in 2021 compared to 2020, 325 billion to be exact. Fatalities in pretty much every category are up, with multi-vehicle crashes and urban road crashes leading the way at 16 percent. Alcohol-related fatalities increased 5 percent, however, that's a continuation of the sharp 16-percent increase recorded in 2020. Speed-related fatalities also continued to rise from 2020, with 2021 projections showing another 5 percent increase.

As for who's crashing, the 35-44 age group is projected to have a 15 percent increase from 2020, with 6,714 estimated deaths. 65 and older is right behind at 14 percent, though total fatalities are higher at 7,530. Males are still dying at nearly three times the rate of females, with 2021 estimates showing 30,876 fatalities versus 12,039. Percentage-wise from 2020, that's an increase of 10 and 12 percent.

The NHTSA's full report offers additional data and breakdowns in other categories.

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