Three Makes a Trend: Traffic Deaths Down Again

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

What this spring needed was more talk of sudden death. So here you go.

According to preliminary estimates released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, fewer people died in highway crashes in 2019 — pushing the nation’s death rate down even further from a modern-era high point reached in 2016.

While data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) does seem to indicate a third straight year of decline, we’re still a ways off from numbers reached just a handful of years ago.

The predicted drop is 1.2 percent, following 2018’s 2.3-percent drop and 2017’s 0.9-percent drop. In total, the NHTSA predicts 36,120 roadway fatalities last year, with deaths down across the board — among drivers, passengers (though just barely), pedestrians, and cyclists. Those latter two categories saw their unfortunate membership decline 2 and 3 percent, respectively.

A move in the right direction, for sure, but a far cry from the U.S. being able to boast of the safest streets in the land. In the mid-2010s, as sales, miles driven, and the economy soared to new post-recession heights, traffic fatalities took a sharp turn upwards, rising 8.4 and 6.5 percent, respectively, in 2015 and 2016.

Last year’s predicted tally is still significantly above the 32,429 fatalities seen in 2011. However, these stats can be viewed through different lenses. With a fatality rate of 1.1 per 100 million miles traveled, 2019 appears to tie 2011 and 2013 for the lowest rate seen since before the recession (that being the non-virus-related Great Recession, of course).

Given the vastly fewer miles driven by Americans these past couple of months, coupled with widespread stay-at-home orders, 2020 is shaping up to be an interesting year, data-wise. That said, a number of states, among them Massachusetts and Minnesota, have reported a spike in speeding and collisions during their lockdowns.

As we saw with recent Cannonball Run record attempts, wide-open lanes can lead to a thirst for speed among some of our more adventurous drivers.

Were these reductions seen countrywide, you ask? Nope, though only one NHTSA reporting region out of 10 saw an increase in traffic fatalities. That region was the Southeast, comprising Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, South Caroline, and Alabama. There, fatalities rose 2 percent. The area with the greatest decrease was New England (a region that does not include Connecticut, in the agency’s study). That area saw deaths sink 8 percent. The very central U.S., comprising Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas, held steady with no apparent increase or decrease.

Keep in mind that this data is still preliminary. The agency will come out with a final report later this year.

[Image: LanaElcova/Shutterstock]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Vanillasludge Vanillasludge on May 07, 2020

    FARS. Like TRD, another acronym desperately in search of one more letter. Couldn’t get the word “Tracking” in there?

  • Thelaine Thelaine on May 07, 2020

    New York State officials allowed nursing home employees infected with coronavirus to continue to work and to treat residents at the Hornell Gardens facility in rural Steuben County, according to a New York Post report. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has come under increasing scrutiny for a March 25 directive ordering nursing homes to accept coronavirus patients. The text of the directive stated (original emphasis): “No resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to the NH [nursing home] solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19. NHs are prohibited from requiring a hospitalized resident who is determined medically stable to be tested for COVID-19 prior to admission or readmission.” Cuomo has since said that nursing homes could tell the state Department of Public Health they could not accept such patients, or transfer them to other facilities. However, some homes have said that the state was unresponsive when they reached out, and that they felt intense pressure to accept the patients — despite the unique risk coronavirus generally poses to elderly people. The Post reported Thursday: The state Health Department allowed nurses and other staff who tested positive for the coronavirus to continue treating COVID-19 patients at an upstate nursing home, The Post has learned. State officials signed off on the move during an April 10 conference call that excluded local officials from Steuben County, who protested the move, according to a document provided by the county government’s top administrator, Jack Wheeler. At least 15 people have died at the Hornell Gardens nursing home in the tiny town of Hornell since the outbreak, according to county tallies. State records show just seven deaths across the county and include no data about this home. Roughly one third of the staff and residents at the home have contracted the virus, the Post added. Last week, Steuben County reported that 73% of its 33 coronavirus deaths at the time had been linked to nursing homes.