WASHINGTON — Traffic deaths decreased nationwide during 2019 compared to 2018, according the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In addition, preliminary data for 2020 showed a decrease in traffic fatalities during the year’s second quarter, during the height of the nation’s COVID-19 crisis, the agency noted.
On Oct. 1, NHTSA released a preview of 2019 data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) and preliminary estimates for the first half of 2020. Alongside the release of the 2019 preview data and 2020 first-half fatality projections, the agency issued two companion reports, Special Report: Examination of the Traffic Safety Environment During the Second Quarter of 2020 and Drug and Alcohol Prevalence in Seriously and Fatally Injured Road Users Before and During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency.
In 2019, there were 36,096 fatalities in motor-vehicle traffic crashes, a decrease of 739 (down 2%) from the reported 36,835 fatalities in 2018, even though vehicle miles traveled increased by nearly 1%. As a result, the fatality rate for 2019 was 1.10 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) — the lowest rate since 2014, down from 1.14 fatalities per 100 million VMT in 2018.
During 2019, fatalities in crashes involving at least one large truck showed relatively no change, decreasing from 5,006 in 2018 to 5,005 in 2019. Large trucks include both commercial and non-commercial trucks with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 10,000 pounds.
NHTSA’s preliminary fatality estimates for the first half of 2020 showed a slight drop (0.5%) during the year’s first quarter, with a larger drop of 3.3% in the second quarter. During April, May and June, during the height of the COVID-19 public health emergency, there were 8,870 traffic-related deaths compared to 9,172 during the same time period of 2019.
As a result of the COVID-19 public health emergency, the nation’s total traffic volume decreased by more than 16% in the first six months of 2020. Because traffic volumes decreased more significantly than did the number of fatal crashes, the traffic fatality rate per 100 million VMT is projected to increase to 1.25 in the first half of 2020, up from 1.06 in the same period in 2019.
“Road safety is always our top priority, and while we are encouraged by today’s reports showing a continued decline in total fatalities in 2019 and into the first half of 2020, we are concerned by the trend since April showing an increased fatality rate,” said James Owens, NHTSA deputy administrator. “Now, more than ever, we should be watching ourselves for safe driving practices and encouraging others to do the same. It’s irresponsible and illegal to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol, taking risks not only with one’s own life, but with the lives of others.”