Roadway deaths were down during the first six months of the year and have now been on a decline for the fifth consecutive quarter, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
When releasing its latest traffic fatality estimates, NHTSA estimated that 19,515 people died in auto collisions during the first half of the year, a 3.3% year-over-year decrease from the same period in 2022, when 20,190 people were killed.
The drop in deaths came despite Q1 estimates indicating vehicle miles traveled were up 2.3% year-over-year, NHTSA said.
“After spiking during the pandemic, traffic deaths are continuing to slowly come down but we still have a long way to go,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a press release. “Safety has always been the core mission of this Department, and thanks to President [Joe] Biden, we are delivering unprecedented resources to communities across the country to make their streets safer.”
NHTSA has in recent years been rolling out safety initiatives aimed at reducing traffic deaths.
In June, it said it was proposing to adopt new federal standards that would require more effective automatic emergency braking (AEB) and forward collision warning (FCW) systems on new vehicles.
Months later, it brought forward another proposed rule that would require automakers to equip passenger seats with seatbelt warning systems. The proposed rule would apply to passenger cars, trucks, most buses, and multipurpose passenger vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less.
NHTSA has also extended its standing general orders (SGOs) that mandate reporting obligations of autonomous driving and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS)-related crashes for an additional three years.
The agency noted in a press release that the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will invest billions into roadway safety, including programs to improve driver behavior and avoid collisions. During fiscal year 2023, states received $886 million in funding to address risky driving behaviors, protect vulnerable road users, and strengthen existing safety programs, NHTSA said.
However, Ann Carlson, NHTSA’s acting administrator, said more undertakings are needed.
“While we are encouraged to see traffic fatalities continue to decline from the height of the pandemic, there’s still significantly more work to be done,” Carlson said. “NHTSA is addressing traffic safety in many ways, including new rulemakings for lifesaving vehicle technologies and increased Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding for state highway safety offices. We will continue to work with our safety partners to meet the collective goal of zero fatalities.”
Although traffic fatalities are higher than they were 10 years ago, they’re beginning to drop from 42,939 deaths in 2021, which represented a 16-year high.
Late last month, an NBC affiliate article questioned why last year’s projected roadway deaths were nearly 10% higher than 2020’s figures, despite an increase in ADAS features meant to make vehicles safer.
The 42,915 people killed in traffic crashes last year was also 26% higher than in 2010, when 32,885 deaths occured, according to NHTSA data.
NBC noted that cyclists and pedestrians have been disproportionately affected by the uptick, with deaths among them rising 60% within the span of a decade.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has made a number of efforts to reduce pedestrian deaths, including:
- Developing nighttime pedestrian crash prevention ratings, which it said could help automatic emergency braking (AEB) systems detect pedestrians in the dark;
- Adding pedestrian autobraking to its Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick+ criteria; and
- Together with the Highway Loss Data Institute, petitioned federal regulators to require passenger vehicles to be equipped with pedestrian AEB systems that work well in the dark.
There are a number of other ADAS features such as lane departure warnings and forward pedestrian impact avoidance meant to prevent collisions but those systems can’t reverse the trend on their own, said Joe Young, IIHS spokesman.
“Crash avoidance technologies and improvements in vehicle design are making new cars safer than ever,” Young told Repairer Driven News. “There are a few reasons we’re not seeing these improvements translate into broader safety gains. For one, there are other factors at play that are pushing fatalities in the wrong direction. …we started to see an increase in fatalities related to dangerous behaviors start to surge with the pandemic. This included increased speeding, more impaired driving, and more people being killed while unbelted. Despite returning to pre-pandemic traffic volumes, we’re still seeing the effects of these behaviors. Crashing at a higher speed quickly cancels out any safety benefits from improved crashworthiness, for example.
“Another factor is how long it takes these safety improvements to filter into the vehicle fleet. The average age of a vehicle on U.S. roads is over 12 years and that number has been creeping up. Our estimates show that in 2022, only about 23% of registered vehicles had automatic emergency braking, for example, and that isn’t expected to hit 95% until 2045, so the proven benefits from that technology are not yet fully realized. It’s a similar story when we look at other technologies and improvements to vehicle structure and restraints that can help people survive crashes.”
Featured image: Tashi-Delek/iStock