Highway Accident Deaths Dropped in 2017, Following Two Years of Substantial Increases: NHTSA

According to new statistics on roadway fatalities in 2017, the number of highway accident deaths was down last year, following two consecutive years where the number of fatalities increased. 

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released updated statistics on 2017 traffic fatalities last week, not only indicating that the number of deaths nationwide is down for the first time since 2015, but pedestrian accident fatalities also declined for the first time in five years.

Although the total vehicle miles traveled in the 2017 calendar year increased by 1.2 percent when compared to 2016, the NHTSA report indicates that the total fatalities decreased. The highway accident death rates per 100 million vehicle miles traveled decreased by 2.5 percent, from 1.19 in 2016 to 2.16 in 2017.

The total decrease in traffic from 2016 to 2017 was about 1.8 percent, compared to the increase of 6.5 percent from 2015 to 2016 and the 8.4 increase from 2014 to 2015.

In 2016, injury and fatality data collected by the National Safety Council indicated that more than 4.6 million roadway users were injured seriously enough to require medical attention, resulting in about 40,000 fatalities. The traffic related injuries and fatalities included all vehicle related accidents and also all pedestrian and bicycle collisions which have been on a sharp increase over the last several years according to the NHTSA.

Officials report that for the second year in a row, more fatalities were reported in urban areas rather than rural areas. Typically, the NHTSA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data finds there are more vehicle crashes reported in urban areas due to more dense populations, whereas rural areas typically have a higher crash fatality ratio due to increased speed limits and passengers statistically less likely to be wearing seat belts.

Pedestrian fatalities decreased by two percent from 2016 to 2017, which is the first decrease since 2013. The Government Highway Safety Administration (GHSA) reports that an average of 5,000 pedestrians are killed from roadway crashes every year. Since 2013, pedestrian fatalities have been steadily rising, with more than a 10 percent increase recorded from 2014 to 2015.

The only increase in crash fatality data reviewed for 2017 were collisions involving tractor trailers and combination trucks, which were found to have risen by 5.8 percent.

Although the report does not highlight any one particular factor responsible for the decrease in highway deaths, several initiatives across the nation aimed to reduce traffic fatalities were implemented over the last year.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) released a study last month reporting that the implementation of modern roundabouts, also known as traffic circles, has significantly helped reduce the severity of auto accidents, leading the state to initiate plans to install at least 26 more in the near future. Officials reported the roundabout design decreased fatalities and serious injuries by 100 percent.

Additional efforts have included the implementation of green-light countdown timers to help drivers understand when a traffic signal was going to turn from green to yellow. In a study published online for the November issue of the journal Traffic Research, researchers indicate that driving simulator test demonstrate that Traffic Signal Countdown Timers (TSCTs) increased the probability for drivers to stop by 13.10% when approaching an intersection.

Researchers found that by assigning a numbered timer, participants were able to predict when the light was going to turn yellow, and mentally make the decision that they were about to begin stopping, rather than making a split-second decision to start braking when the light quickly changed from green to yellow, which is one of the highest contributing factors to dangerous high speed intersection crashes.

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