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SAN DIEGO – People are dying in car crashes across the country at an alarming rate, a new report shows.

Nearly 32,000 people died in traffic collisions in the U.S. in 2021, according to a report by the U.S Department of Transportation. Of those, some 3,200 of those were in California, an alarming figure and one that local law enforcement has experienced up close.

“We never want to see fatality,” California Highway Patrol Officer Jim Bettencourt said. “It changes lives forever. As an officer who has been to hundreds of fatal collision scenes, it has changed my life forever.”

Bettencourt has dealt with the unfortunate aftermath of fatal crashes in San Diego County. He notes the most common cause of fatal crashes is speed.

“Fatal collisions are 100% preventable,” he said. “There’s no reason that anyone should die in their car and the reason people crash is because they are doing something they are not supposed to be doing behind the wheel.”

Early reports from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show 31,720 people died in traffic crashes from January to September of 2021. That’s a 12% increase from the same time frame of 2020, marking the highest number of fatalities in the first nine months of any year since 2006.

In California, fatal crashes are up roughly 17% jumping from 2,770 deaths in 2020 to 3,246 in 2021.

There are a few possible factors as to why there are more fatal crashes across the nation. One is due to the pandemic as fewer cars were on the roads for large portions of 2020.

In addition, substance abuse has increased as well during the pandemic, leading to more DUI crashes. 

San Diego County CHP officers actually responded to fewer fatal crashes in 2021 compared to the year prior. 

“We have had about 130 people die in collisions here in San Diego County in 2021 and that is down from roughly 180 in 2020 so that’s good news,” Bettencourt said.

The U.S. Department of Transportation plans to roll out the first-ever National Roadway Safety Strategy in hopes of preventing death and injury.

In it are plans which outline building safer roads and improving technology.