U.S. Traffic Deaths Decline for Second Year in a Row

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
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u s traffic deaths decline for second year in a row

The National Safety Council just released its estimates for U.S. roadway fatalities in 2019, and there’s good news to share. Deaths declined for the second consecutive year. According to the NSC, traffic fatalities reached an estimated 38,800 last year, representing a 2-percent decline from 2018 and and a 4-percent decline against 2017.

While the NSC said the decline came “after several years of spikes,” we found the claim to be mildly misleading. Even though 2015 and 2016 posted meaningful increases in roadway deaths, safer streets have been in fashion since the 1970s. Most years since then have resulted in fewer crashes, with sporadic bad periods sprinkled throughout. If you’re interested in some supporting data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, U.S. roadway fatalities per 100,000 people averaged around 26.01 in 1972. That figure fell to just 10.28 by 2014, with the combined 2015-2016 increases bumping it up to just 11.59 per 100,000 people.

The general trend has been towards increased safety; clearly, we’ve come a long way over the past several decades. Still, it’s important to know which areas continue to cause problems so that they can be properly addressed. These occur over a much longer timeline and require additional information.

From the NSC:

Research to definitively determine why fatalities have decreased for the last two years is likely to lag several years. However, the NSC preliminary estimate signals that the country may be experiencing the benefits of several risk mitigation actions implemented in the last few years. For example, 10 cities have embraced Vision Zero models, which make streets safer by taking actions that include redesigning high-crash areas to reduce crash risk. Other proven measures include lowering the legal alcohol concentration limit. Utah’s implementation of a .05 legal limit has prompted other states to consider similar laws. Coalitions such as Road to Zero have raised the national dialogue.

And today, the majority of newly manufactured vehicles include advanced driver assistance systems, such as automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning systems, backup cameras and adaptive headlights, all of which are proven to reduce the severity of crashes or prevent them altogether.

We’re still uncertain about advanced driving aids, at least in their current state. While they definitely have the ability to save an inattentive motorist from having an accident in certain instances, they’re sometimes unreliable and research suggests they may actually make you a worse driver. One could also make the claim that many aids came into service during the same period we saw those abnormally high spikes in roadway fatalities, or suggest that the last two years (where safety did improve) wasn’t as robust as previous decades, where annual gains were often larger.

Our point is that, despite the praise surrounding driver assistance systems, few bother to go in and examine each feature independently. It was easier with seat belts, as there wasn’t nearly as many factors to account for. Individual assistance features really should be examined more closely before we presume they’ll save us.

Getting back to the big picture, the National Safety Council noted that preliminary estimates showed at least a 13-percent improvement in roadway deaths in Alaska, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota and Vermont. States that showed fatalities increasing by more than 5 percent included Delaware, Maine, Nebraska, Ohio, Tennessee and Wyoming. While the NSC did not presume the cause of the localized degradation in public safety, it noted spikes in pedestrians fatalities and said distracted driving remained a factor.

“Thirty-eight thousand deaths is still unacceptable, even if it is fewer than in years past,” said NSC President Lorraine M. Martin. “We are encouraged by the actions so many organizations are taking to reduce deaths, and we applaud legislation that curtails common crash causes such as impairment, distraction and speed. But as a nation, we still need to demonstrate better commitment to saving lives. Roadway deaths can be prevented by doubling down on what works, embracing technology advancements and creating a culture of safer driving.”

[Image: mikeledray/Shutterstock]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

Consumer advocate tracking industry trends, regulation, and the bitter-sweet nature of modern automotive tech. Research focused and gut driven.

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  • Flipper35 Flipper35 on Feb 26, 2020

    Holy hand grenade Batman this comment system sucks.

  • Pwrwrench Pwrwrench on Feb 26, 2020

    Some things not mentioned yet. Improvements such as safety bead wheels and much better tires. Along with much better brake systems. I am glad that people don't have the 'freedom' to buy a car or truck with single circuit brakes, non-safety bead wheels, bias ply tires and other ancient stuff. Long ago I got a book out of the library about auto crashes. In retrospect it was surprising that they let a little kid read it, there were a lot of gruesome post crash photos. It was about a research project, in the early 1950s, into auto crashes. At the time the driver, certainly if they were dead, was found to be the cause of a crash. The researchers arranged with law enforcement to go to undisturbed crash scenes. They found many crashes caused by mechanical problems. Failing brakes, tires that failed or came off the rim, and of course internal collisions due to no belts. Later a study by UCLA, where they crashed remote controlled vehicles into others and walls. This lead to the improved vehicles with have today. Sure there have been hiccups along the way, like the seat belt interlock, but I'll take a 'newer' car over those nostalgia 50s and 60s stuff.

  • Ernesto Perez There's a line in the movie Armageddon where Bruce Willis says " is this the best idea NASA came up with?". Don't quote me. I'm asking is this the best idea NY came up with? What's next? Charging pedestrians to walk in certain parts of the city? Every year the price for everything gets more expensive and most of the services we pay for gets worse. Obviously more money is not the solution. What we need are better ideas, strategies and inventions. You want to charge drivers in the city - then put tolls on the free bridges like the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges. There's always a better way or product. It's just the idiots on top think they know best.
  • Carsofchaos The bike lanes aren't even close to carrying "more than the car lanes replaced". You clearly don't drive in Midtown Manhattan on a daily like I do.
  • Carsofchaos The problem with congestion, dear friends, is not the cars per se. I drive into the city daily and the problem is this:Your average street in the area used to be 4 lanes. Now it is a bus lane, a bike lane (now you're down to two lanes), then you have delivery trucks double parking, along with the Uber and Lyft drivers also double parking. So your 4 lane avenue is now a 1.5 lane avenue. Do you now see the problem? Congestion pricing will fix none of these things....what it WILL do is fund persion plans.
  • FreedMike Many F150s I encounter are autonomously driven...and by that I mean they're driving themselves because the dips**ts at the wheel are paying attention to everything else but the road.
  • Tassos A "small car", TIM????????????This is the GLE. Have you even ever SEEN the huge thing at a dealer's??? NOT even the GLC,and Merc has TWO classes even SMALLER than the C (The A and the B, you guessed it? You must be a GENIUS!).THe E is a "MIDSIZED" crossover, NOT A SMALL ONE BY ANY STRETCH OF THE IMAGINATION, oh CLUELESS one.I AM SICK AND TIRED OF THE NONSENSE you post here every god damned day.And I BET you will never even CORRECT your NONSENSE, much less APOLOGIZE for your cluelessness and unprofessionalism.