By on October 22, 2019

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced Tuesday that American traffic deaths declined for a second year in a row in 2018. Data indicates a 2.4 percent decline in roadway fatalities last year, with bicyclists and pedestrians being the only groups to see risk moving in the wrong direction.

“This is encouraging news, but still far too many perished or were injured, and nearly all crashes are preventable, so much more work remains to be done to make America’s roads safer for everyone,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in a statement.

The DOT/NHTSA attributed improving automotive safety systems as the primary reason for the decline in deaths, though some of the metrics included in the report’s breakdown suggest other factors could be at play. 

From the NHTSA:

The data, compiled by NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, shows that highway fatalities decreased in 2018 with 913 fewer fatalities, down to 36,560 people from 37,473 people in 2017. The fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled also decreased by 3.4 percent (from 1.17 in 2017 to 1.13 in 2018), the lowest fatality rate since 2014.

Additionally, the agency noted that fatalities among children (14 years and younger) declined 10.3 percent, alcohol-related deaths declined 3.6 percent, speeding-related fatalities dropped 5.7 percent, and motorcycle-based deaths went down by 4.7 percent. While advanced driving aids and improved safety systems may have helped, we imagine that motorbike incidents declined, to some degree, because many riders have hung up their helmets. Bike sales fell off a cliff during the Great Recession and never managed to fully recover, potentially leaving fewer motorcyclists on the street.

Child safety and DUI-related crashes are harder to attribute to something else, even partially. The U.S. birth rate has dropped a bit over the last 10 years and Americans are drinking marginally less, but we’d be hesitant to claim either contributed to the study in a big way. The NHTSA didn’t see a reason to, claiming safety improvements stemmed almost entirely from technological advancements within the industry and DOT initiatives.

“New vehicles are safer than older ones and when crashes occur, more new vehicles are equipped with advanced technologies that prevent or reduce the severity of crashes,” NHTSA Acting Administrator James Owens said. “NHTSA has spent recent years partnering with state and local governments and safety advocates to urge the public to never drive impaired or distracted, to avoid excessive speed, and to always buckle up.”

The agency is concerned with the increase in deaths for pedestrians and non-motorized cyclists, however. The agency’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System cited pedestrian fatalities as going up by 3.4 percent in 2018. Cyclists deaths rose 6.3 percent.

As a result, the group wants to incorporate new safety systems in the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP). The goal would be to encourage automakers to implement hardware that would improve things for pedestrians and bicyclists. However, the NHTSA doesn’t appear to have settled on any particulars. We only know it wants to revamp NCAP with a new emphasis on the safety of pedestrians and “other vulnerable road users.” The Federal Highway Administration will offer help in this regard, as it intends to focus on maximizing pedestrian and bicycle safety via new funding, policy guidance, program management, resource development, and new FHWA Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator points of contact at each of its division offices.

If you’re wondering how 2019 is shaping up, there’s no need to worry. The report stipulates that it’s looking to be an even safer year. Fatalities in the first half of 2019 declined by an estimated 3.4 percent from the same period in 2018, with 589 fewer fatalities over that period. If the second half performs as well, 2019 will be our third consecutive year of declining roadway deaths.

[Image: Photo Spirit/Shutterstock]

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28 Comments on “U.S. Road Fatalities Declined in 2018...”


  • avatar
    highdesertcat

    I suggest that one of those other factors at play is increased and stricter, more diligent law enforcement, mining the highways and byways.

    Everywhere I have driven it seems there is always a cop hiding in plain sight, like under an overpass, or in the median, or on top of an overpass, or even adjacent to a long straight stretch of Interstate.

    If not for my trusty old Valentine………

    • 0 avatar
      Pig_Iron

      OK, but I think they should make them earn it. Put them all on old Indian flatheads with left hand throttle, right hand shift, and left foot heel-to-wheel clutch.
      ;-)

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        Heh, heh, heh. I envision a big box of a variety of Walmart donuts on the front seat of the Explorer Interceptor, with a large Starbucks coffee in hand.

        That’s what my son did when he was a CHiP, way back when before he learned that there was a whole lot more money to be made elsewhere, without having to incur the ire and wrath of the automotive public.

        He changed jobs and lost 24 pounds.

        True story that.

  • avatar
    Stanley Steamer

    The increase is likely due to rising popularity of pedestrianism and bicycling and lack of respect for traffic signals from those who practise such sports.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      Take Boston. They have high rate of bicycle deaths. What they did – they basically made all streets “bike-friendly” and effectively mixed them together. And bicyclists think they are both, pedestrians and traffic participants – whichever suits them better at any particular moment.
      I easily see how crap can happen. You drive a car and enter the intersection, turn right, you see no one, suddenly bike comes out and tried to cross on pedestrian crossing. You don’t expect such speedy pedestrians. Actually, both things are written in manuals, you don’t run over the road and you don’t ride bike on pedestrian crossing. So, to me, seems like 90% chance that dead biker was at fault.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      ^This!

      What did the anti-car nazis think would happen when bolloxing-up driving lanes by putting bike lanes everywhere??!!

    • 0 avatar
      thegamper

      More likely due to the increase in pickup truck registrations. Would be interesting to see the correlation between pedestrian deaths and pickup truck registrations. Betcha the relationship is pretty strong.

  • avatar
    JMII

    What about crashes? Are those numbers up or down? As noted fatalities are likely down due to safer vehicles, but I would venture a guess that crashes (fender benders) are up due to people texting. A big majority of crashes I see is just people rear-ended someone else in normal stop-n-go type traffic situations. These accidents go thru the roof when it rains which tells me people don’t leave enough space when following other cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

      General crash data takes much longer to tabulate and often emerges as broad estimates with big variations between groups doing the counting (this happens with death averages to a lesser degree). A lot of minor accidents aren’t even included, making reliable data difficult to come by. But the average is about 6.2 million U.S. traffic accidents per year right now.

      Injuries (minor and severe) are more closely tracked, however, with averages calculated through 2017. They trended down between 1996 and 2011, going from 3.48 million to just 2.21 million per year. While fatalities proved to be a little less predictable during that period, they also trended down through 2011. Both began climbing back up between 2011 and 2017, with injuries peaking at 2.74 million. But we’ll probably have to wait a full year for comprehensive data from 2018 to come in.

      While injuries could continue climbing as new data trickles in, we don’t anticipate fatalities to exceed any period in history before 2008 — assuming you’re weighing them by population and/or miles traveled. Only 2015 and 2016 represented significant setbacks in terms of roadway safety and both years still yielded an average death rate people would have envied just a decade earlier.

  • avatar
    gasser

    In Los Angeles, we have big problems with scooter/bicycle riders, compounded by the rental markets of Byrd, Lyft, Uber and more. I live near UCLA and LOTS of these kids ride with abandon, but without helmets, down narrow, winding streets. Newer bicycles have lights and reflectors, but many older ones have nothing. Also parents in our neighborhood persist in renting these scooters for kids way under 18. The preteen has no sense of traffic, no sense of how hard short people are to see over the hoods of mammoth SUVs and no sense of mortality. This problem will continue to grow with the expansion of the rent-it-here, leave-it-anywhere scooter/bicycle rental.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Short summary: improvements in vehicle safety systems are compensating for increased staring at phones with respect to people inside cars, but people outside cars are screwed. Doesn’t matter if you’re following all the rules; the phone is more important than your life.

    https://www.heraldnet.com/news/lynnwood-pedestrian-struck-and-killed-before-car-hits-garage/

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      I’d also wonder if the improvements in vehicular safety came at the expense of pedestrian visibility. I know my driver’s side A-pillar is perfectly situated to hide anyone standing at the opposite corner at the intersection leaving my neighborhood (so, if they have to cross into my path while I’m making a left hand turn, I might not know they’re there until partway into the intersection).

      Thinking even bigger picture, given the gentrification of many walkable neighbourhoods and cities, are people who genuinely can’t afford to drive being displaced to cheaper areas where it’s more dangerous to walk?

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        Yes and (definitely) yes. The suburbanization of poverty is making a lot of people walk in very pedestrian-hostile places.

        My last two GM products have been particularly bad with respect to A-pillar impact on visibility. I developed the habit in my G8 of moving my upper body side to side in the seat every time I turned left, and I’ve had to redevelop it in the Bolt.

        • 0 avatar
          sgeffe

          I changed up my commute route in the morning after I managed to miss a vehicle approaching from my right, and blocked by the A-pillar, as I was waiting to turn left, two days in a row a couple weeks ago! And the pillars in my new Accord are one-third the girth of my 2013!

          • 0 avatar
            ToolGuy

            If anyone has access to FARS data, my question would be: How many fatalities are due to rollovers and what has the rollover trend been?

            And my follow-up: If rollovers are less of an issue after the implementation of stability control, can we now soften the roof crush standards somewhat and get thinner pillars back?

          • 0 avatar
            ToolGuy

            OK I guess anyone can access the FARS data. The most recent relevant summary by NCSA looks like June 2014. I’d be interested to see what the recent trend has been (from someone familiar with the data).

            Follow-up question stands.

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            “can we now soften the roof crush standards somewhat and get thinner pillars back?”

            Don’t blame the roof crush standards for pillar thickness- look at the pillars on any Volvo made in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s.

            A couple things make the roof pillars excessively thick: airbags in the pillar (this is a tradeoff of one more airbag for less outward visibility) and sloppy design.

  • avatar
    probert

    “so much more work remains to be done to make America’s roads safer for everyone” Things like paving?

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      I was thinking more like development of a Zap-O-Ray that zaps any phone that a driver looks at while in the driver’s seat and not in park.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        Yeah but that sword cuts both ways in regards to pedestrian involvement. Too many pedestrians in our area have their nose burred in their phone, ear buds in and not paying attention to where they are walking.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    36,560 / 365 = 100 fatalities per day. This still seems high to me. Like, embarrassingly high.

  • avatar
    Pig_Iron

    Happy news. Thanks, I could use some.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Yes ~ the pedestrians who launch off the curb without looking amaze me .

    It’s like they have a death wish .

    Then those god damned assholes on bicycles who wobble all over the lane, again lot caring if they’re cutting in front of an overtaking vehicle plus they almost never stop at red lights and stop signs ~ you can’t have it both ways ~ you’re either part of the solution or you’re the problem .

    Driving in the mountains I often come ’round a blind corner to find an idiot on a bicycle in the middle of the roadway looking surprised .

    They’re prolly the same as THOSE DAMN KIDS ON MY LAWN ! =8-^ .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    -Nate

    I see I’m back to being moderated again…..

    What’s the excuse this time I wonder ? .

    -Nate

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