Tampa works to reverse trend as deadly traffic crashes reaches 16-year high nationwide

A new national report found deadly traffic crashes reached a 16-year high nationwide, and Tampa city officials are working on a way to reverse the trend locally.

According to the new traffic fatality report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Tuesday, the nation’s roads saw a spike in 2020, but 2021 was worse. The number of people dying in crashes last year went up more than 10% from 2020, and it surprised traffic safety advocates. 

"We expected the numbers to go up, but I'm really astonished that they went up by that much," said Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. "42,915 people being killed in one year on our roads is just astonishing. It's a fair comparison if you look at the look at apples to apples. So if you look at the numbers in terms of vehicles, miles traveled, those numbers are going back up. They're near pre-pandemic. So when you look at the 42,000, that is remarkably high compared to what it was before the pandemic."

The NHTSA report said road crashes jumped 16% and pedestrian deaths went up 13%. Alcohol-related and speed-related crashes increased five percent and are still higher than pre-pandemic levels. Florida’s crashes went up about 13%, NHTSA found.

READ: Hillsborough Commissioners will discuss proposed transportation surtax to meet county's growing needs

"We actually in Tampa saw almost double what our normal year averages for fatalities," said Alana Brasier, chief planner in the city of Tampa’s mobility department. "On a typical year, we have about 44 to 45 deaths that happen on our road from crashes, and last year we saw 81. So we saw that definitely highlighted, even exacerbated even more than that national statistic."

Tampa city planners said they don’t want any more people dying on the roads, so they have a plan with the Vision Zero initiative to have zero traffic-related fatalities. 

"Well, we're really trying to focus on what we're calling quick build treatments, and it's something that we've seen other cities do with a lot of success," said Brasier. "So those are some of those quicker, lower cost treatments that can be done with paint, bollards, or the delineators that you see in the road, signal timing. We also plan to identify roads that have potential for speed management and traffic-calming."

More help can come with extra lights along roadways.

"I think 75% of our pedestrian fatalities happen at night," Brasier said.

The city also has plans to improve bike lanes and targeting roads with a high number of crashes.

MORE: Officials give glimpse into new project with 22-mile trail for bikers, pedestrians

"The more we can build out that separated safe network for people to bike filling in our sidewalk gaps, that's all a part of this," said Brasier. "We know speeding through neighborhoods is a big issue for people, and so we're focused on that, but also really focused on the major roads because that's really where we see those serious crashes happening."

Safety advocates said those safety initiatives matter if they are implemented, but Chase said the actions of those behind the wheel are critical to changing the trend.

"Driving really requires all of your attention on the driving task. Don't take it for granted, because when you do it, that's when a crash will happen," said Chase.