At first glance, U.S. roads are becoming safer, as traffic fatalities fell another 2.4 percent in 2018. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released data Tuesday showing the latest crash figures, showing fewer deaths linked to new safety technologies in modern cars. However, occupant deaths on U.S. roadways isn’t the entire picture. While deaths in vehicle-to-vehicle crashes fell, both pedestrian and cyclist deaths rose.
6,283 pedestrians were killed in 2018, an increase of 3.4 percent from the previous year. 857 cyclists were also killed, representing a 6.3 percent increase in fatalities.
Things like automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist and driver attention monitors help redress the balance. That said, the NHTSA data highlights there’s still some progress to be made outside the vehicle itself. Pedestrian detection has been one of the latest additions to automatic braking systems, though it hasn’t yet brought about a direct drop in pedestrian deaths. More people are opting to walk or bike, particularly in cities, which could explain the rise in deaths. Sales have boomed for crossovers and SUVs as well, which can cause more damage if they hit unprotected pedestrians.
Of those pedestrians killed in 2018, 76 percent were hit after dark.
Still, the overall drop in fatalities is encouraging. The figure is down significantly from its 2016 peak, where 40,200 people died. The Wall Street Journal also reported some other encouraging numbers. “Alcohol-related fatalities fell 3.6 percent last year, while speeding related deaths declined 5.7 percent, the NHTSA data shows.” Deaths of children younger than 14 dropped 10.3 percent, and motorcyclist deaths dropped 4.7 percent.
NHTSA said it would look at ways to reduce pedestrian and cyclist deaths in the future. That includes possible changes to the agency’s crash-test program that rates new models on a five-star system. So, similar to impact and rollover tests, we could see new ratings for pedestrian safety. Right now, though, the specifics of those tests have not been announced.