Approximately 46,000 people died on U.S. roads last year, according to preliminary data from the National Safety Council.
That number is up 9% from 42,339 deaths recorded in 2020, and up 18% from 39,107 deaths in 2019, according to the nonprofit health and safety organization.
“This devastating news serves as yet another wakeup call for this country. We are failing each other, and we must act to prioritize safety for all road users,” Lorraine Martin, president and CEO of the National Safety Council, said in a press release. “One life lost in a preventable crash is tragic enough and more than 46,000 in one year is unacceptable.”
The report comes as traffic on roads nears pre-pandemic levels. According to the Federal Highway Administration, vehicle miles traveled in the first nine months of 2021 increased 11.7% from the same time in 2020.
The cause for the continuing rise in motor vehicle deaths is not yet known. Some experts say while fewer people were on roads in the beginning of the pandemic, reckless driving ran rampant.
“What we do know, at least preliminarily through some NHTSA studies at the beginning of the pandemic, is that people are speeding, they are not wearing their seatbelts, they are driving distracted and impaired as well,” Jane Terry, the vice president of government affairs at NSC, told ABC News.
A new study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found an estimated 4% of drivers in the United States said they increased their driving during the pandemic. Those drivers tended to be younger and mostly male, AAA said.
That group also reported to engage in risky driving behaviors such as distracted driving, speeding, aggressive driving, substance-impaired driving and not using seatbelts, AAA’s report found.
In January, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg released a plan, the National Roadway Safety Strategy, to reduce road deaths across the country. The plan calls for nationwide design changes to roads, automatic emergency braking in passenger vehicles, among dozens of other initiatives -- including a goal to reach zero deaths on American roadways.
“This is a national crisis,” Buttigieg said at the time. “We cannot and must not accept these deaths as an inevitable part of everyday life.”
ABC News' Sam Sweeney contributed to this report.