Anne Heche’s recent car crash and ensuing death has once again brought attention to the subject of driving fatalities and some of the factors that have led to their increase.
In 2021, an estimated 42,915 people were killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes in the United States. According to data from the Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research at the University of Albany’s Rockefeller College, in New York alone 353 fatal crashes were recorded – an 11 percent increase from the year prior. These were attributed to unsafe speeds and resulted in the death of 389 people, including bicyclists, pedestrians and of course drivers. Anne Heche was clocked at going at 90 mph down the streets of a residential neighborhood where on any given day, children may be playing. According to videos, she “almost hits a woman walking on the sidewalk, seemingly not even touching her brakes or swerving to avoid the possible collision.”
The traffic fatalities for 2021 represented an increase of 10.5 percent over the fatalities of 38,824 in 2020 and an 18 percent increase from 2019. “The projection is the highest number of fatalities since 2005 and the largest annual percentage increase in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System’s history,” the NHTSA said. The agency also estimated that at least 7,300 pedestrians were killed by motor vehicles in 2021, up 13 percent from 2020. Contributing factors to some of these deaths included alcohol, speeding, and not wearing a seatbelt.
Experts say there are several reasons behind this jump in fatalities, including drivers distracted by their cell phones and more trucks, SUVs and electric cars on the road. While new vehicles have more safety features, like backup cameras, the Environmental Protection Agency says that today’s cars are heavier and have greater horsepower than ever before. Horsepower in vehicles is up almost 80 percent compared to 1975, the EPA reports, and the average vehicle weight for 2021 models was more than 4,100 pounds.
Michael Brooks, acting executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, told CNBC in May that “the heavier the vehicle is and the higher the vehicle is, the more likely it’s going to kill a pedestrian and the more likely it’s not going to be compatible with the little sedan and do some serious damage.” In the United States, there is “a conflicting culture” around cars, Brooks said. “People want these flashy, big-ticket items and we want to be able to do what we want in our cars, but at the same time, we’re killing each other at a rate (nearly) higher than ever before, and something needs to be done.”
There are several steps drivers can take to keep themselves — and their passengers — safe. First, obviously is that the driver not be under the influence of any substance like alcohol or drugs. Then, it’s imperative that everyone in a vehicle wear their seatbelt, and that kids in car seats and boosters are properly buckled in.
More than anything else, drivers need to watch the speedometer and slow down when necessary, especially when there are lots of pedestrians around. If your car doesn’t have hands-free technology, invest in a device that adds Bluetooth connectivity to your car radio, so you can safely answer or make calls. Car safety advocates are also asking automakers to equip all new vehicles with features like automatic emergency braking and blind spot warnings.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the country is facing a “crisis” on its roadways and the Department of Transportation has come up with a National Roadway Safety Strategy (NRSS) that aims to “significantly” reduce deaths and serious injuries on highways, roads, and streets and is “the first step in working toward an ambitious long-term goal of reaching zero roadway fatalities.”
In New York, Speed Awareness Week starts today, August 14. Law enforcement across the state will increase their efforts to target people who are driving at unsafe speeds, according to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s Office. It’s a good time to take stock of your driving behavior and make sure you act responsibly to keep yourself and others, safe.