Traffic fatalities down for third consecutive year in 2019

May 5, 2020

Tyson Fisher


Preliminary data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reveals that in 2019 traffic fatalities were down for a third consecutive year.

On Tuesday, May 5, NHTSA released early estimates for the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) 2019 data on highway crashes. Overall, a projected 36,120 were killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes last year. That is a 1.2% decrease of 2018’s 36,560 traffic fatalities.

Decreases in traffic fatalities were seen in most of the major categories:

  • Passengers (down 4%).
  • Drivers (down 3%).
  • Pedalcyclists (down 3%).
  • Pedestrians (down 2%).
  • Motorcyclists (down 1%).

Two major categories that are estimated to have an increase in traffic fatalities include crashes involving at least one large truck (up 1%) and drivers over 65 years old (up 1%).

It is worth noting that fault is not factored into any of the data.

Also noteworthy, large trucks are considered vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 10,000 pounds, including large pickup trucks.

In 2018, trucker traffic fatalities reached a 30-year high. That was the first full year of the ELD mandate, which went into effect in December 2017. Proponents of the mandate claimed that ELDs would promote safety and decrease truck-related traffic deaths.

A decrease in traffic fatalities comes despite a 1% increase in vehicle miles traveled. Typically, there is a positive correlation between traffic fatalities and vehicle miles traveled. Last year, the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled was 1.10, down from 1.13 the previous year. Assuming final data remains the same, last year’s per 100 million vehicle miles traveled traffic deaths will be the second lowest since NHTSA began recording fatal crash data in 1975. The lowest was in 2014 with a rate of 1.08 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled.

Nine of 10 regions are expected to have net decreases in traffic fatalities. The one region with an increase (2%) is Region 4, which includes Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee. The largest decrease (8%) was in Region 1 – Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.

The latest data marks the third consecutive annual decrease in traffic fatalities.

In 2018, there was a decrease of 2.4% and preceded by a decrease of 0.9% in 2017. There were significant annual increases in 2015 (8.4%) and 2016 (6/5%).

Although the news for 2019 is looking to be positive, the Governors Highway Safety Association issued a news release on Tuesday, May 5, warning the public about potential negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic:

“Late last month, many Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) members reported that the COVID-19 crisis has led to more speeding on our roadways rather than the significant reduction in traffic crashes we would expect with the nation sheltering at home. Now, as states begin to reopen businesses and drivers resume their normal patterns, pent up demand could lead to an increase in crashes. Americans, no doubt, are anxious to return to work, visit with friends and families, and socialize at restaurants and bars. When they do, they must extend the same care and focus on safety that has been exhibited throughout the pandemic to our roadways. Zero traffic fatalities is the only acceptable goal.”


All traffic fatalities data for 2018 and 2019 are preliminary and are subject to change. In its latest report, NHTSA states that “it is too soon to speculate on the contributing factors or potential implications of any changes in deaths on our roadways.” Final data for 2018 as well as the annual report file for 2019 will be available in late fall of 2020, which usually results in the revision of fatality totals and the ensuing rates and percentage changes. Estimates may change when the projections for the first quarter of 2020 are released later this spring.

Tyson Fisher

Tyson Fisher joined Land Line Magazine in March 2014. An award-winning journalist and tireless researcher, his news reports, features and blogs bring depth to our editorial content, backed with solid detail. Tyson is a lifelong Kansas Citian.