WASHINGTON — U.S. traffic deaths fell 3.1 percent in the first six months of 2018, according to preliminary figures released on Wednesday.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also reported that for all of 2017 traffic deaths fell by 1.8 percent to 37,133 after traffic deaths rose sharply in the previous two years, according to final figures.
The U.S. traffic fatality rate fell to 1.08 deaths per 100 million miles traveled for the first half of 2018. The fatality rate in 2017 was 1.16 million deaths per 100 million miles traveled — the second highest rate since 2008.
The Governors Highway Safety Association noted that a strong economy usually correlates with an increase in traffic deaths "so this drop, while small, is encouraging news."
NHTSA Deputy Administrator Heidi King said the agency is looking at a variety of factors to explain the reduction. Automakers are adding more crash avoidance features to vehicles to help warn motorists of a potential crash or slow a vehicle "and we're very hopeful that will continue to be part of a trend," King said.
The agency said over the last four decades the general downward trend in vehicle deaths is attributed to a variety of factors including increased seat belt use, reduced impaired driving and features like air bags and electronic stability control.
The only increase in traffic death categories in 2017 was a 9 percent jump in deaths involving large trucks, including tractor-trailers. Deaths among truck drivers increased 16 percent. Officials noted that a growing U.S. economy means more freight is traveling on U.S. roads, one factor in the increase.
Deaths involving the largest trucks above 26,000 pounds rose by 3.8 percent in 2017.
Reporting by David Shepardson