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Vehicle fatalities drop, pedestrian toll continues to rise

An illustration of a car driving down a road.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

There is both good news and bad news in the latest government accounting of highway fatalities.

The good news: The number of people who died in vehicle crashes in 2018 dropped 2.4%, to 36,560, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported this week.

  • That's 913 fewer people than in 2017, and the second year in a row that highway fatalities have dropped.
  • NHTSA credited new car safety technology, and noted that alcohol- and speeding-related fatalities were both lower.

Now, the bad news, which is getting worse: Pedestrian and cyclist deaths keep rising.

  • 6,283 pedestrians were killed by cars in 2018, up 3.4%.
  • 857 cyclists died in vehicle crashes, up 6.3%.
  • The vast majority of those deaths occurred after dark, NHTSA says.
  • Pedestrian deaths are up 50% in the past decade, reports Wired.

Distraction could be a factor — by both motorists and pedestrians — but the popularity of trucks and SUVs could also be contributing to the spike in pedestrian deaths.

  • Taller, heavier vehicles are more likely to strike a person in the torso or head, rather than in the legs.

What to watch: The NHTSA plans to upgrade its 5-star rating system for new vehicles to include technologies for pedestrian and cyclist safety.

  • Yes, but: So far, AAA testing shows that pedestrian detection and braking systems don't work very well.

Go deeper: Pedestrians are dying while vehicle safety tech lags