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Traffic Deaths Decreased in 2018, but Still 36,560 People Died

Percentage of Drunk Driving Deaths Lowest on Record, Pedestrian and Bicyclist Deaths Are Up

The number of people dying on America’s roads dropped by nearly 1,000 in 2018, according to newly released data from NHTSA. This marks the second consecutive year that motor vehicle fatalities declined. While the 2018 decrease was felt across many areas, pedestrian, bicyclist and large-truck occupant fatalities saw increases. 

By the numbers

36,560 people were killed in traffic crashes in 2018, a 2.4% decrease from 2017

  • 1,038 children (14 and younger) died, a more than 10% decline
  • 9,378 speeding-related deaths, an almost 6% drop
  • 4,985 motorcycle fatalities, an almost 5% decrease
  • 6,283 pedestrians died, a more than 3% increase, and the most deaths since 1990
  • 857 bicyclist deaths, a more than 6% increase
  • 885 large-truck occupants died, an almost 1% increase

The decrease in traffic deaths come as people drove even more. Estimated vehicle miles traveled increased by 0.3% from 2017 to 2018, while the fatality rate per 100 million VMT decreased by over 3%. This is the lowest fatality rate since 2014.

Changing trends

Over the past 40 years, there has been a general downward trend in traffic fatalities. Safety programs such as those increasing seat belt use and reducing impaired driving have substantially lowered the traffic fatalities. In 2018, drunk driving fatalities dropped about 4%, accounting for 29% of 2018 traffic deaths — the lowest percentage since 1982 when NHTSA started reporting alcohol data.

Vehicle improvements such as air bags and electronic stability control have also contributed greatly to the reduction of traffic deaths on our roads. In 2018, there was about a 10% decrease from 2017 in passenger vehicle occupants killed in rollover crashes. 


Over the past 10 years, the number of traffic deaths in urban areas has increased — surpassing deaths in rural areas since 2016. Among the fatal crash types that have risen since 2009 in urban areas, pedestrian deaths are up 69%, bicyclist fatalities increased 48% and motorcycle deaths are up 33%.

What’s next

In addition to the 2018 numbers, NHTSA also released initial estimates for the first half of 2019, which suggest that this overall positive trend may be continuing. While we’re making progress, we still need to be safer on the road. At NHTSA, it’s our mission to save lives, prevent injuries and reduce economic costs due to road traffic crashes, through education, research, safety standards and enforcement activity. It’s everyone’s job to follow the rules of the road and to not engaged in risky behavior on our nation’s roads.

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