PITT COUNTY, N.C. (WITN) - More North Carolinians died from car accidents in 2021 than any other year.
This preliminary data comes from the Governor’s Highway Safety Program, which says 1,755 people died in traffic accidents last year. The previous record stood at 1,704 deaths in 2007.
These numbers follow a nationwide trend of distracted driving causing an uptick in deaths.
During the pandemic, travel took on a different definition. More people utilized cars as their primary mode of transportation to avoid highly trafficked public spaces like airplanes.
However, more folks behind the wheels and on the roads brought more fatal accidents.
“Nobody is really ever happy to see you, but it’s just part of the business,” tow truck driver Noah Harrison said.
Getting behind the wheel comes with major responsibilities.
“You are essentially the pilot of a, sometimes two-ton guided-missile down the roadway where you have other two-ton guided missiles beside you,” Highway Safety Program Director Mark Ezzell said.
In the past year, Harrison says he’s been called out to scenes ranging from fender benders to tragic accidents one to three times a week.
Through grants and programs like the Booze It and Lose It campaign, the state is looking to increase highway surveillance, looking to the pandemic as a blueprint.
“Much like we’re dealing with COVID, we can look to some of those public health solutions to help address the issue,” Ezzell said, adding “We need layers of protection.”
For the safety program, that means starting with public education on road safety and design.
“Those are simple steps we can take to save a life,” Ezzell said.
While the overall trend moved upward for fatal accidents, the data decreased year to year in some specific types of crashes. Fewer traffic deaths related to pedestrians and cyclists were reported in 2021 than in 2020.
However, this Super Bowl weekend, the roadways have a chance to turn even deadlier.
“Anything after about midnight, you can guarantee there’s going to be alcohol involved somewhere along the line,” Harrison said. “Those are usually your worst wreck... late at night, somebody drinking or leaving the bar.”
People are encouraged to utilize resources like ridesharing programs or designated drivers.
If you are hosting, Ezzell suggests cutting off alcohol for your guests after halftime and taking some responsibility in making sure everyone has a safe way home.