Traffic fatalities on U.S. roadways reached an estimated 38,800 in 2019, the second consecutive year the country saw a small decline in road deaths, according to new figures released last week by the National Safety Council.
The 2019 total represents a 2 percent decline from 2018, which saw slightly more than 39,400 road deaths, and a 4 percent decline from 2017, when about 40,230 people died in vehicle crashes, according to the Itasca, Ill.-based safety organization.
Preliminary estimates suggest the United States may be benefiting from "risk mitigation actions implemented in the last few years," the council said in the news release. One example the group cited is the Vision Zero initiative, a strategy gaining momentum in major cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago and New York that works to improve traffic safety by taking actions such as redesigning high-crash areas. Another proven safety measure is lowering the legal alcohol-concentration limit for drivers.
The organization also said advanced driver-assistance systems — such as automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, backup cameras and adaptative headlights — help reduce the severity of crashes or prevent them.
While 2019 roadway deaths are down from the previous year, Lorraine Martin, CEO of the National Safety Council, said "38,000 deaths is still unacceptable."
"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," she said in a statement. "But as a nation, we still need to demonstrate better commitment to saving lives."
The group said it is still too early to determine the exact cause-and-effect trends behind the 2019 deaths. But final data from 2018 showed distracted driving and drowsiness continued to be factors.
"Roadway deaths can be prevented by doubling down on what works, embracing technology advancements and creating a culture of safer driving," Martin said.