WASHINGTON — Traffic fatalities on U.S. roads reached an estimated 40,000 in 2018, the third year in a row in which at least that many people died in vehicle crashes, according to new figures from the National Safety Council.
The 2018 total represents a decline of just 231 deaths — roughly 1 percent — from road deaths in 2017 but a 14 percent increase from just four years ago, according to the safety advocacy group.
Research has shown that safety technologies such as automatic emergency braking and collision warning systems can result in fewer crashes, but those technologies are only present in relatively few vehicles on the road, said Ken Kolosh, the safety council's director of statistics.
"There is definitely evidence that these systems are preventing crashes," he said, noting "they're probably not at the critical mass yet to see them having an impact on the overall macro level."
While it's too early to understand the precise trends behind 2018 deaths, other research has shown fatalities linked to drunk driving, speeding and cell phone use behind the wheel are trending down.
Other risks may be emerging, however, such as impairment from mixing alcohol and marijuana in states that have legalized the drug, and drivers using in-vehicle infotainment systems, Kolosh said.