Record deaths due to traffic crashes reported in 2021

The number of reported deaths due to traffic crashes in Florida rose dramatically last year, including in Hillsborough County, where officials say crashes killed an average of five people every week last year. 

A new report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found traffic deaths went up 12% nationwide in the first nine months of last year. That's the highest percentage increase on record.

"Florida experienced a nearly 18% increase in traffic fatalities, which is an incredibly shocking number," said Allison Kennedy, the director of government relations at Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

Kennedy said emptier roads during the pandemic changed driver behavior. 

"We also saw an increase in dangerous driving behavior like speeding, impaired driving, as well as a lack of seatbelt use. All of these are very concerning," said Kennedy.

Hillsborough County Transportation Planning Organization shared stunning numbers to county commissioners, reporting that 255 people died in crashes last year averaging five people a week.

"Our fatality performance of the past three years have been significantly higher than any previous period in our history," said Johnny Wong, a staffer with Hillsborough TPO during the meeting.

Hillsborough County officials said most crashes happen during peak hours, but that spread out in the last two years. Commissioner Kimberly Overman shared changes that could help save lives.

"One is the speeds in communities under 40 miles an hour. We found that a majority of the crashes that were in that it resulted in a fatality were over 40 miles an hour. Two, reducing lane size – believe it or not, does actually oftentimes result in less deadly crashes and lower speeds," said Overman.

Hillsborough County has a Vision Zero plan to cut traffic deaths, and one goal is to make some changes to bring down the number of deadly crashes. Staff at TPO project 253 fatal crashes for 2022, and they hope to decrease that figure by the end of the year. 

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety said some states can also do more to pass safety laws and enforce them. The organization lists Florida as one of the worst states for highway safety laws, stating Florida is missing laws regarding rear seat belts, all-rider motorcycle helmets, booster seats and more.