WASHINGTON — A U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on Wednesday held a hearing on soaring American traffic deaths and efforts to build safer roads, calling it an urgent crisis.
Last year, traffic deaths jumped 10.5% to 42,915, marking the highest number killed on U.S. roads in a single-year since 2005.
Congress, as part of a $1 trillion infrastructure bill in 2021, approved $5 billion for local governments to improve roadway safety.
House Transportation and Infrastructure committee chair Peter DeFazio said for years «all we emphasized was fast throughput for cars and trucks.»
DeFazio called the United States «kind of pathetic» in per capita traffic death rankings, noting they are far higher than in Canada and many European countries.
The preliminary yearly increase reported is the highest since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began using its traffic fatality tracking system in 1975.
American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials President Shawn Wilson said at the hearing the crash data suggests «there is no easy answer or single, one-size-fits-all solution to address this problem. Fatalities have increased on both rural and urban roads, and in both daytime and nighttime crashes.»
Wilson said «we need to be proactive in our efforts, and we need to have redundant safety strategies in place.»
U.S. traffic deaths surged after pandemic lockdowns ended in 2020. The number of pedestrians killed in 2021 jumped 13% to 7,342, the highest since 1981, while the number of people on bicycles killed rose 5% to 985, the highest since at least 1975, NHTSA said.
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety urged Congress to work «to prevent traffic fatalities» by «reducing speeds, road safety infrastructure improvements and better post-crash management.»
In January, the Transportation Department released a strategy designed to cut traffic deaths. «We face a crisis on our roadways,» Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said.
On Wednesday, 14 U.S. senators led by Senator Ed Markey asked Buttigieg to detail progress on the strategy and efforts to ensure target completion dates are met.