Following a nationwide trend, more people were killed in traffic fatalities in North Carolina last year than in any other year in the past two decades.
The 1,755 people killed in traffic crashes in 2021 exceeded the state’s previous record of 1,704 traffic fatalities in 2007, according to preliminary data from the N.C. Governor’s Highway Safety Program. Last year’s numbers also represented a slight tick upward of 5% over the traffic fatalities recorded in 2020.
“Sadly, we have seen traffic fatalities moving in the wrong direction for a couple years in North Carolina and across the country,” said Mark Ezzell, director of the N.C. Governor’s Highway Safety Program. “People are dying in record numbers on our roads, and it’s going to take an all-hands on deck approach from communities, organizations and individual drivers to reverse this trend.”
The 2021 data showed a decrease in some types of crashes compared to 2020 data. For instance, North Carolina saw a decrease in traffic fatalities related to pedestrians, cyclists and work zones. However, the state saw an increase in other types of fatalities attributed to speeding, unbuckled occupants and distracted driving. Also, over the past five years, almost all categories have shown a year-over-year increase in fatal crash totals.
NCDOT’s Safety and Mobility Unit provides detailed county-by-county information on traffic crashes, although there is some lag time in when updated data is made available.
“We’ll continue to encourage collaboration and innovative, holistic approaches to improving safety on our roadways,” said Kevin Lacy, state traffic engineer with the N.C. Department of Transportation. “But in the meantime, we know everyone can play a part by slowing down, driving defensively, never driving distracted or impaired, and always buckling up in every seat of a vehicle.”
In 2021, the NCGHSP awarded more than $18 million in grants to nearly 100 organizations across North Carolina for a variety of initiatives targeting key traffic safety areas. Grant recipients include local and state law enforcement agencies, nonprofit organizations, courts and state departments.
North Carolina’s data mirrors a disturbing national trend. The 31,720 people killed in the first nine months of 2021 represented more deaths on the nation’s roads than the first nine months of any year since 2006, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Feature photo: A vehicle flipped on its side in a two-vehicle accident on U.S. Highway 1, south of Pinebluff, in 2019~Sandhills Sentinel.