The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has released a preview of 2019 data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System and preliminary estimates for the first half of 2020.

The data reveals that traffic deaths decreased nationwide during 2019 as compared to 2018.  There were 36,096 fatalities in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2019, representing a decrease of 739 (down two percent) from the reported 36,835 fatalities in 2018, even though vehicle miles traveled increased by nearly one percent. This equates to a fatality rate for 2019 of 1.10 fatalities per 100 million VMT – the lowest rate since 2014, down from 1.14 fatalities per 100 million VMT in 2018.

Fatalities in crashes involving at least one large truck showed relatively no change, decreasing from 5,006 in 2018 to 5,005 in 2019.

NHTSA also released preliminary fatality estimates for the first half of 2020. The second quarter of 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 public health emergency, showed a continued decline in overall traffic fatalities. An estimated 8,870 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes during the second quarter of 2020, a decrease of about 3.3 percent compared to the second quarter of 2019.

However, at the same time, at the height of the COVID-19 public health emergency, the total traffic volume decreased by more than 16 percent in the first six months of 2020. Because traffic volumes decreased more significantly than the number of fatal crashes, the traffic fatality rate per 100 million VMT is projected to increase to 1.25 in the first half of 2020, up from 1.06 in the same period in 2019.

“Road safety is always our top priority, and while we are encouraged by today’s reports showing a continued decline in total fatalities in 2019 and into the first half of 2020, we are concerned by the trend since April showing an increased fatality rate,” said NHTSA Deputy Administrator James Owens. “Now, more than ever, we should be watching ourselves for safe driving practices and encouraging others to do the same.  It’s irresponsible and illegal to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol, taking risks not only with one’s own life, but with the lives of others.”