December 23, 2019 2:15 PM, EST

US Traffic Fatalities Declined 2.2% During First Nine Months of 2019

Highway traffic in Minnesota. The third quarter of 2019 was the eighth straight quarter that saw year-over-year declines in traffic deaths. (Getty Images)

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The overall number of U.S. traffic fatalities declined 2.2% for the first nine months of 2019 compared to the same period in 2018, according to a preliminary estimate by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

An estimated 26,730 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes through September 30, making the third quarter of 2019 the eighth consecutive quarter for year-over-year declines in traffic deaths since Q4 of 2017, NHTSA said in the Dec. 20 report.

The report did not break down the number of truck-involved fatalities.

Elaine Chao, Transportation Secretary


“This is positive news, but more work remains to be done to make our roads safer for everyone,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said in a statement.

Preliminary data from the Federal Highway Administration shows vehicle miles traveled in the first nine months of 2019 increased by approximately 24 billion miles, roughly a 1% increase. The fatality rate for the first nine months of 2019 decreased to 1.10 fatalities per 100 million VMT, down from the 1.13 fatalities in the first nine months of 2018.

“Dangerous actions continue to plague drivers, such as speeding, distraction, and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol,” NHTSA Acting Administrator James Owens said. “The path forward calls for a combination of policies, research and action that requires committed and sustained effort from state, local and federal governments; and from highway safety partners, schools, and communities — all committed to reducing fatalities on our nation’s roads.”

NHTSA Acting Administrator James Owens


NHTSA said it is continuing to gather and finalize data on crash fatalities for 2018 and 2019, using information from police crash reports and other sources.

“It is too soon to speculate on the contributing factors or potential implications of any changes in deaths on our roadways,” NHTSA’s Traffic Safety Report said. “The final data for 2018 as well as the annual file for 2019 will be available in late fall of 2020, which usually results in the revision of fatality totals and the ensuing rates and percentage changes.”

NHTSA reported in October that fatalities increased in 2018 compared to 2017 in the following categories: large-truck occupants, pedestrians and pedalcyclist fatalities. As it relates to trucks, American Trucking Associations spokesman Sean McNally said at the time that the data provided an “incomplete picture of the safety of our highways” since it did not account for the number of vehicles on the road in 2018, or how many miles those vehicles traveled.

NHTSA said there were declines in fatality numbers during the early1980s and 1990s that lasted 11 consecutive quarters, while the most recent decline occurred over 17 consecutive quarters, ending in the second quarter of 2010.

More recently, a significant increase in fatalities occurred over 10 consecutive quarters ending after the first quarter of 2017, the report said.

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