For the second consecutive year, the U.S. experienced a small decline in roadway deaths, according to preliminary estimates released by the National Safety Council (NSC). In 2019, an estimated 38,800 people lost their lives to car crashes – a 2% decline from 2018 (39,404 deaths) and a 4% decline from 2017 (40,231 deaths). About 4.4 million people were injured seriously enough to require medical attention in crashes last year – also a 2% decrease over 2018 figures.
At the state level, fatalities are estimated to have dropped more than 13% since 2018 in seven states – Alaska (-16%), Connecticut (-14%), District of Columbia (-21%), Nevada (-14%), New Hampshire (-30%), South Dakota (-21%) and Vermont (-31%). Six states experienced estimated increases in fatalities by more than 5% - Delaware (20%), Maine (35%), Nebraska (8%), Ohio (8%), Tennessee (10%) and Wyoming (32%).
Research to definitively determine why fatalities have decreased for the last two years is likely to lag several years. However, the NSC preliminary estimate signals that the country may be experiencing the benefits of several risk mitigation actions implemented in the last few years. For example, 10 cities have embraced Vision Zero models, which make streets safer by taking actions that include redesigning high-crash areas to reduce crash risk. Other proven measures include lowering the legal alcohol concentration limit. Utah’s implementation of a .05 legal limit has prompted other states to consider similar laws. Coalitions such as Road to Zero have raised the national dialogue.
And today, the majority of newly manufactured vehicles include advanced driver assistance systems, such as automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning systems, backup cameras and adaptive headlights, all of which are proven to reduce the severity of crashes or prevent them altogether.
“Thirty-eight thousand deaths is still unacceptable, even if it is fewer than in years past,” said Lorraine M. Martin, NSC president and CEO. “We are encouraged by the actions so many organizations are taking to reduce deaths, and we applaud legislation that curtails common crash causes such as impairment, distraction and speed. But as a nation, we still need to demonstrate better commitment to saving lives. Roadway deaths can be prevented by doubling down on what works, embracing technology advancements and creating a culture of safer driving.”
The Council’s estimates do not reveal causation; however, 2018 final data show continued spikes in deaths among pedestrians, while distraction continues to be involved in 8% of crashes, and drowsy driving in an additional 2%.
NSC has tracked fatality trends and issued estimates for nearly 100 years. All estimates are subject to slight increases and decreases as the data mature. NSC collects fatality data every month from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and uses data from the National Center for Health Statistics, so that deaths occurring within one year of the crash and on both public and private roadways – such as parking lots and driveways – are included in the estimates.
To help ensure safer roads, NSC urges motorists to:
- Practice defensive driving; buckle up, designate a sober driver or arrange alternative transportation, get plenty of sleep to avoid fatigue, and drive attentively, avoiding distractions
- Recognize the dangers of drugged driving, including impairment from opioids; visit nsc.org/rxpainkillers to understand the impact of the nation’s opioid crisis
- Stay engaged in teens’ driving habits; visit nsc.org/DriveitHOME for resources
- Learn about your vehicle’s safety systems and how to use them; visit MyCarDoesWhat.org for information
- Fix recalls immediately; visit ChecktoProtect.org to ensure your vehicle does not have an open recall
- Join Road to Zero to understand how safety professionals are addressing motor vehicle fatalities; visit nsc.org/roadtozero to get involved
The National Safety Council has issued traffic fatality estimates since 1921. Supplemental estimate information, including estimates for each state, can be found here.
About the National Safety Council
Founded in 1913 and chartered by Congress, the National Safety Council is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to eliminate preventable deaths at work, in homes and communities, and on the road through leadership, research, education and advocacy. NSC advances this mission by partnering with businesses, government agencies, elected officials and the public in areas where we can make the most impact – distracted driving, teen driving, workplace safety, prescription drug overdoses and Safe Communities.