TEXAS, USA — Despite more people staying home during the pandemic, 2021 proved to be one of the deadliest years on Texas roadways.
The Texas Department of Transportation said 4,486 people were killed in fatal crashes last year. That's the second deadliest year on Texas roads.
"That's insane numbers," said tow truck driver Nathan Bryant.
For Bryant, what happened on Texas highways in 2021 is more than just numbers.
"He was ripped away from us violently," said Bryant. "How do you replace that?"
His friend fellow tow truck driver Isaac Simmons killed last May while assisting someone on the side of the road.
"You see flashing lights, they are there for a reason," said Bryant. "It's not for show. It's not to make us look cool. It's there to protect our lives and the lives of those that are broken down on the side of the road."
2021 was the deadliest year for Texas roads since 1981. Experts said the pandemic only made things worse.
"People were engaging in behaviors that were riskier and even though the risk was small for the individual, it had disastrous consequences for a significant number of people," said Dr. Art Markman, a psychology professor at the University of Texas.
TxDOT said the factors that led to the sharpest increase in deaths were work zones, cyclists and folks not wearing a seatbelt. It's that last one that's most concerning for TxDOT.
"We cannot control decisions people make behind the wheel," said Texas Transportation Commissioner Laura Ryan.
TxDOT plans to use crash data to improve areas where drivers are more prone to get into accidents. That includes new roadway design features. But the agency says that won't solve the problem on its own.
"We really need the public to join us in this so we don't end up this time next year looking at the numbers we're looking at today," said Ryan.