Freeway congestion from overhead taillights commercial truck in foreground Scott Olson/Getty Images

Fatal motor vehicle crashes decrease in 2017, but commercial truck fatalities rise

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that 2017 highway fatality numbers dropped 1.8% following two consecutive years of large increases. In addition, preliminary estimates for the first six months of 2018 appear to show that this downward trend has continued.

However, fatal crashes involving heavy-duty trucks in general were up 9% in 2017 compared with 2016. Fatal accidents involving tractor-trailer combinations rose by 5.8%, and fatal accidents involving straight trucks jumped 18.7%.

Occupants of other vehicles involved in large-truck crashes had 280 more fatalities, an 8.8% climb from 2016. Large-truck occupant fatalities in multiple-vehicle crashes rose by 76, or 28.5% higher than 2016. Large-truck occupant fatalities in single-vehicle crashes were up by 40, an 8.7% increase from 2016.

“Safety is the department’s number one priority,” said Transportation Secretary Elaine L Chao. “The good news is that fatalities are trending downward after increasing for the two previous years. But, the tragic news is that 37,133 people lost their lives in motor vehicle crashes in 2017. All of us need to work together to reduce fatalities on the roads.”

Chao added that 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 over the years. Vehicle improvements such as air bags and electronic stability control have also contributed greatly to the reduction of traffic fatalities.

The 1.8% drop from 2016 to 2017 contrasts with the 6.5% increase from 2015 to 2016 and the 8.4% increase from 2014 and 2015. Other report highlights include:

•Pedestrian fatalities fell about 2%, the first decline since 2013.

•Speeding-related fatalities were down 5.6%, from 10,291 in 2016 to 9,717 in 2017.

•The number of fatalities in distraction-affected crashes was 3,166, or 8.5% of total fatalities in 2017.

•The number of fatalities involving a drowsy driver was 795 in 2017, or 2.1% of total fatalities in 2017.

•For the second year in a row, more fatalities occurred in urban areas than rural areas.

•Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) climbed by 1.2% from 2016 to 2017.

•The fatality rate per 100 million VMT dropped 2.5%, from 1.19 in 2016 to 1.16 in 2017.

“Dangerous actions such as speeding, distracted driving, and driving under the influence are still putting many Americans, their families and those they share the road with at risk,” said NHTSA Deputy Administrator Heidi R King. “Additionally, we must address the emerging trend of drug-impaired driving to ensure we are reducing traffic fatalities and keeping our roadways safe for the traveling public.”

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