Despite the fact that Americans are driving more than ever, U.S. traffic fatalities fell 2.4% last year to 36,560; however, pedestrian deaths were at their highest point in nearly 30 years.
Traffic deaths were down for the second straight year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, falling by 913 fatalities. Additionally, the fatality rate fell to 1.13 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled — a drop of 3.4% and the lowest rate since 2014.
The drop in traffic fatalities is a positive trend, speaking to the improved safety of vehicles in the U.S., the rise in pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities is troubling. Pedestrian deaths jumped 3.4% to 6,283 last year while cycling deaths rose 6.3% to 857 people.
The combined numbers are the highest since 1990, and in the last 10 years the number has risen 42% despite the number of traffic fatalities falling 8% during the same period. This dramatic gap can be explained, in part, by one trend: distracted driving.
Another factor, claims the Governors Highway Safety Association, is the popularity of larger trucks and SUVs. Sales of SUVs comprise more than half of all new vehicle sales, which means more of the larger, less forgiving vehicles on American roads.
The group said the number of pedestrian fatalities involving SUVs increased 50% from 2013 to 2017 while the increase by cars was just 30%. NHTSA said it is looking for ways to turn these numbers around.
Although the improved safety of newer vehicles has translated to positive numbers in vehicle-to-vehicle collisions, reducing the number of deaths in those situations, other automotive safety technologies aren’t having the same effect when it comes to pedestrian/cyclist fatalities.
In a recent report, AAA research revealed that automatic emergency braking systems designed to stop vehicles from striking pedestrians did not always work effectively and had a significantly hi
gher failure rate at night.
This is especially problematic because about three-quarters of all pedestrian deaths occur at night, NHTSA notes. There are other factors involved in those incidents, such as 38% of pedestrians killed had some alcohol in their systems and 74% were not at intersections.
One of the changes the federal safety agency is contemplating is including technology designed to improve the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists when it revises its five-star New Car Assessment Program.
In 2017, the United States had 6.4 million traffic crashes reported to police agencies resulting in 2.7 million injuries, according to a NHTSA.
In the broader picture, U.S. roads are far safer than five decades ago, traffic deaths numbered more than 50,000 people annually.