Pedestrian fatalities declined 1.7 percent to 5,977 in 2017, a drop of 103 deaths and the first decline since 2013. Cyclist deaths also dropped by 8.1 percent to 783, 69 fewer than in 2016.
The drop comes after pedestrian deaths spiked by a reported 11 percent in 2016 to the highest total in more than two decades. The new figures released Wednesday reflect higher 2016 pedestrian-death figures than previously reported, at 6,080, meaning the spike was even worse than previously thought.
Pedestrian deaths increased 46 percent in the U.S. between 2009 and 2016.
NHTSA used data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, a census of fatal crashes in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, the latter of which wasn't used in the U.S. totals. It says the proportion of people killed "inside the vehicle" declined from a high of 80 percent in 1996 to 67 percent in 2017. "Conversely, the proportion of people killed 'outside the vehicle' (motorcyclists, pedestrians, pedalcyclists, and other nonoccupants) increased from a low of 20 percent in 1996 to a high of 33 percent in 2017," the report authors wrote.
The Detroit Free Press reports that NHTSA Deputy Administrator Heidi King on a conference call discussing the report said safety features such as automatic emergency braking, improved lighting and highway design could help decrease pedestrian deaths.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety issued a study earlier this year that found that sport utility vehicles, with their higher front ends, were commanding an outsize role in pedestrian deaths, with the organization recommending design changes to vehicles' front ends. The National Transportation Safety Board has also recommended better headlights, improved braking systems and pedestrian-friendly improvements to local infrastructure like more medians and sidewalks.
Distraction from smartphones, both on the part of drivers and pedestrians, and in-car infotainment systems is also suspected to be an underreported factor behind the long-term rise in fatalities.