Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) traffic fatality data from 2019, and it shows some positive results. 

According to the data, 2019 saw fewer traffic fatalities across the nation than in 2018, and traffic fatalities resulting from alcohol-impaired collisions decreased to the lowest percentage since the NHTSA started tracking that data in 1982. 

In 2018 there were 36,835 reported traffic fatalities, but this number decreased in 2019 by 2%, or 739, with 36,096 fatalities that year. This is despite the fact that the number of vehicle miles traveled increased by 0.8% in 2019, which means that the fatality rate itself for that year was lower than it was in 2018. In fact, 2019 actually saw the lowest fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, since 2014.

The data also showed that for most of the major traffic safety categories, fatalities decreased in 2019 from the 2018 numbers:

  • Passenger vehicle occupant fatalities (630 fewer fatalities, 2.8% decrease)
  • Pedestrian fatalities (169 fewer fatalities, 2.7% decrease)
  • Cyclist fatalities (25 fewer fatalities, 2.9% decrease)
  • Alcohol-impaired driving fatalities (568 fewer fatalities, 5.3% decrease)
  • Urban fatalities (813 fewer fatalities, 4% decrease)

According to NHTSA Deputy Administrator James Owens, “We are encouraged by the 2019 FARS data, which shows that fewer lives were lost on our nation’s roads than the year before, a trend for three years now even while economic growth was increasing. We saw notable reductions in pedestrian and cyclist fatalities, as well as fewer lives lost in alcohol-impaired driving crashes.”  

This positive news comes at a time when there has been increased reporting of dangerous driving behavior exhibited during the 2020 health pandemic. As part of the release earlier this month, the NHTSA included a special supplementary report covering the first half of 2020, comparing the monthly number of fatalities and the monthly fatality rates, to the 2019 numbers in various subcategories, including among other things, age, and the roadway function classifications of the roads the accidents occurred on. 

This data shows that despite a projected decrease in the number of traffic fatalities for the period of April to June 2020, there was an unexpected projected increase in the proportion of traffic deaths that happened in rural areas, and accidents involving young drivers ages 16 to 24, drivers that routinely engage in risky driving behaviors, drivers operating vehicles older than 10 years, and a projected increase in rollovers and vehicle ejections. 

Owens urges us all to remember, “If we’re to keep building on these numbers, everyone needs to do their part by driving sober, wearing their seat belts, avoiding speeding and distractions, and sharing the road with pedestrians and cyclists.”

It will no doubt be interesting to see how the pandemic affects the national driving fatality numbers when the NHTSA releases the 2020 data, around this same time in 2021. 

Further Reading: Holiday DUI Accidents

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