Highway fatality 'crisis' unfolding as numbers hit 15-year high through first half of 2021

Updated Oct 30, 2021

Trucking news and briefs for Friday, Oct. 29, 2021:

Highway fatality estimates hit ‘crisis’ level

An estimated 20,160 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the first half of 2021, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data released this week. That is the highest number of traffic fatalities in the first half of a year since 2006, NHTSA noted.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the number of highway deaths “is a crisis,” and announced a new initiative within DOT to identify ways to reduce fatalities.

“This is a crisis. More than 20,000 people died on U.S. roads in the first six months of 2021, leaving countless loved ones behind. We cannot and should not accept these fatalities as simply a part of everyday life in America,” Buttigieg said. “Today we are announcing that we will produce the Department’s first ever National Roadway Safety Strategy to identify action steps for everyone working to save lives on the road. No one will accomplish this alone. It will take all levels of government, industries, advocates, engineers, and communities across the country working together toward the day when family members no longer have to say goodbye to loved ones because of a traffic crash.”

NHTSA’s data also shows that the estimated 11,225 fatalities during the second quarter of 2021 represents the highest Q2 fatalities since 1990.

Preliminary data reported by the Federal Highway Administration show that vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in the first half of 2021 increased by about 173.1 billion miles, or about a 13% increase as compared to the first half of 2020.

The fatality rate for the first half of 2021 increased to 1.34 fatalities per 100 million VMT, up from the projected rate of 1.28 fatalities per 100 million VMT in the first half of 2020.

[Related: New online trucking radio network with some share-the-road outreach potential]

DOT’s first ever National Roadway Safety Strategy will bring together work being done across the department and will put forth a comprehensive set of actions to significantly reduce serious injuries and deaths on our nation’s roadways. The strategy will recognize that, while DOT has an important leadership role to play in addressing the crisis, it will take concerted and coordinated effort across all levels of government, the private sector, and communities to reverse the current trend. The strategy will be released in January. 

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The strategy will be rooted in the Safe System Approach principles and will identify significant actions the department will take to help ensure: Safer People, Safer Roads, Safer Vehicles, Safer Speeds, and Post-Crash Care. The strategy will focus on new priorities that target the most significant and urgent problems and are expected to have the most substantial impact. 

[Related: Highway courtesy PSA: It's a two-way street]

Highway Angel recognized for helping trucker who collapsed at truck stop

The Truckload Carriers Association has named Pro Truck Lines driver Alec “Zay” Harrison, from Portland, Oregon, a Highway Angel after a last-minute decision put her rig in the right place and time to help resuscitate another driver who had collapsed at a truck stop. 

Alec “Zay” HarrisonAlec “Zay” HarrisonHarrison was on her way from Portland to Seattle on I-5 when a quick stop put her in the right place at the right time.

“I normally stop a little farther up, but I had to use the rest room,” Harrison says. She pulled into Gee Cee’s Truck Stop at exit 57. “When I got back in my truck, I decided not to use the front entrance and pulled around to the back by the mechanic’s shop.” That’s when she saw two men in the parking lot near a forklift.

“There was something on the ground,” she said. “I thought they had dropped something, but as I got closer, I realized it was a person laying there and he wasn’t moving.”

Concerned, Harrison pulled over, hit the four-ways, and grabbed her medical kit. One of the men was calling 911, and the other was kneeling on the ground shaking the unresponsive man, a truck driver, who had collapsed to the ground face-down.

She then checked for a pulse. Finding none, she instructed the two men to turn the man over while she held his head. She then started doing compressions.

“The paramedics arrived about eight minutes later,” she said. “They got set up and then the captain knelt next to me and took over without missing a beat.”

The paramedics intubated the man and were able to get a pulse, but then lost it. “They defibbed him a couple times and got the pulse back and a stable blood pressure,” Harrison added. They then got the man ready for transport to the hospital.  

“I got back in my truck and pulled out to continue on,” she said. “But I was shaking so bad I had to pull over. I called my sister who is a nurse, and my buddy, Joe. Later that afternoon as I was heading back to Portland, Joe found the hospital where the man had been taken to. He was told the man was a patient, so that was good. It meant he was still alive.

The next morning Harrison got a call from one of the driver’s coworkers who had picked up his load. He wasn’t doing well, but his family, including his wife and daughter, were at the hospital with him. Later that afternoon Harrison learned the driver had passed away.

Harrison learned the driver was in his late 50s. “His sister called me a week later and thanked me for allowing them to be with him,” Harrison said. “It’s been a tough thing to deal with. I’m glad they had time with him.” 

For her willingness to help, TCA presented Harrison with a certificate, patch, lapel pin, and truck decals. Her employer also received a letter acknowledging their driver as a Highway Angel.