AUSTIN (KXAN) — While traffic slowly returns to pre-pandemic volumes, Austin Transportation Department officials say deadly crashes continue to increase.

The same thing is happening nationwide, with the National Safety Council estimating deadly crashes are up 16% from 2020 and 17% from 2019. The council reports there have been 21,450 traffic deaths in the first six months of 2021. In Texas, that number shot up 17% from last year, going from 1,765 traffic deaths in the first six months in 2020 to 2,063 this year.

“I think a lot of folks expected fewer people on the roadways, fewer serious injuries and fatalities,” said Lewis Leff, Austin’s transportation safety officer.

However, Leff says that’s not the case.

“It’s certainly a tragic trend right now and we’ve seen this play out basically since the start of the pandemic,” he said about the spike in deadly crashes.

Speeding is the primary factor in crashes involving serious injuries and deaths, he added.

“A number of drivers in the past 18 months or have really been taking advantage of less volume on our roadways and driving more aggressively — higher speeds,” he said. “We’ve also seen impairment be a major factor.”

At present, those at ATD are in the process of studying deadly crashes to figure out what else may be contributing to the deadly spike.

They’re also seeing as traffic returns, those deadly crashes haven’t gone down. Just through early October, ATD reports there were more than 90 traffic deaths in Austin. That’s about 30% more than there were during the same time last year, and 37% more when compared to the same time in 2019.

(Source: Austin Transportation Dept.)

Now, transportation leaders are calling on drivers to be safe in hopes of getting those numbers to decrease.

“There’s no way to point to this one thing that we can go fix. These are really complex situations,” Leff said.

The department is using 2016 Austin Mobility Bond funds to improve safety along several intersections across the city. There are 12 intersection projects that have already been completed with 18 more in the early stages of planning and design from 2018 and 2020 bonds.