- an estimated 36,120 people died in motor-vehicle traffic crashes in the united states last year, a drop of about 1.2 percent, according to new data from the national highway traffic safety administration (nhtsa).
- this keeps a trend going that started in 2017, making for three years of year-over-year declines.
- nhtsa is not ready to name the reasons for the decline and says it may revise the numbers when more data is collected and analyzed later this year.
in pretty much every time-based chart from here on out, 2020 is going to need an asterisk. whether it's winning streaks in sports, gdp numbers or movie earnings, this year is going to stand out from recent averages in a big way. when it comes to on-road fatalities, at least the direction is likely to be a continuation of the past three years of trends.
that's because the preliminary estimates are in from the national highway traffic safety administration (nhtsa) for on-road motor vehicle traffic fatalities for the u.s. for 2019, and it appears that fewer people died in crashes last year than the year before, about 1.2 percent fewer, to be precise. this is the third time in a row the u.s. has seen a year-to-year drop, starting from a recent high in 2016 of 37,806 to 37,473 (2017) to 36,560 (2018) and then to 36,120 last year. these estimates could be revised when the next batch of numbers—for the first quarter of 2020—are released late spring of 2020 or even later, as nhtsa's annual report file for 2019 will not be available until late fall of 2020.
nhtsa says it is too soon to speculate on just why there has once again been a decrease, but we can say that it's not because people drove less in 2019. on the contrary, vehicle miles traveled were up 28.8 billion miles last year, which is about a 0.9 percent increase compared to 2018. although there's been no link proven, perhaps the proliferation of driver-assistance systems such as automated emergency braking, pedestrian detection, and lane-centering technologies play at least some role in this decline. on the other hand, as the governors highway safety association (ghsa) said in february, there were 6590 u.s. pedestrian deaths in 2019. that's up 5 percent compared to the year before and the highest number since 1988.
the ghsa issued a statement this week saying the lower vehicle-accident fatality rate is good news, but that more work remains to be done. "tens of thousands of our family members and friends continue to be killed on our nation's roads," the statement says. "we must do much more to ensure we all arrive at our destination safely." the ghsa notes that the covid-19 crisis has "led to more speeding on our roadways rather than the significant reduction in traffic crashes we would expect with the nation sheltering at home." with some states beginning to reopen certain businesses and more and more drivers getting back on the road after a long break from normalcy, "pent-up demand could lead to an increase in crashes," the governors warned. "americans, no doubt, are anxious to return to work, visit with friends and families, and socialize at restaurants and bars. when they do, they must extend the same care and focus on safety that has been exhibited throughout the pandemic to our roadways."