By TOM KRISHER
AP Auto Writer
DETROIT (AP) — The U.S. government’s road-safety agency says traffic deaths have fallen for the second straight year.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration attributed the 2.4% drop partially to technology in new vehicles that can prevent crashes. A total of 36,560 people died on the nation’s roads in 2018, the latest full-year statistics available.
The agency says the downward trend is continuing into 2019. Estimates for the first half of the year show the number of deaths was down by 3.4%.
“This is encouraging news, but still far too many perished or were injured, and nearly all crashes are preventable, so much more work remains to be done to make America’s roads safer for everyone,” said Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, whose department oversees NHTSA.
Wisconsin is also seeing a downward trend. The state logged 271 traffic deaths between January and July this year. That was down from 328 deaths in the same period of 2018. All told, 576 people died on Wisconsin roads last year.
Nationally, though, the number of pedestrian deaths rose 3.4%, and the number of people killed on bicycles and other pedaled vehicles went up by 6.3%. The number of people killed in large-truck crashes rose by slightly less than 1%.
The declines seen in 2017 and 2018 came after two years of large increases, a development that likely resulted from people driving more and more as the economy improved.
NHTSA said the number of deaths related to alcohol dropped by 3.6% in 2018, and the number linked to speeding fell by 5.7%. The number of motorcycle deaths declined by 4.7%, the agency said.
Most of the pedestrian deaths, 76% of the total, and half the deaths of bicyclists occurred after dark. Some of the pedestrians and cyclists had alcohol in their systems. Seventy-four percent of the pedestrian deaths occurred outside intersections, the agency reported.
NHTSA also said it would consider the effects of the increasing use of SUVs. SUVs sit higher than cars, a fact that can make it difficult for drivers to see pedestrians and cyclists.
NHTSA said in a statement that it’s also studying changes in its five-star crash-assessment program and will consider taking into account new technologies such as pedestrian-detection systems. It’s also working with the Federal Highway Administration to reduce bicycle and pedestrian deaths.
The agency said the number of deaths that resulted from crashes with distracted drivers hit 2,841 in 2018, making up 7.8% of total traffic deaths. Although large, the 2018 number is down by 12.4% from that for 2017, according to the agency.
The Truck Safety Coalition, an advocacy group, said crashes involving at least one large truck killed 4,951 people last year. In a statement, the group said the number of fatalities involving large trucks has increased 46.5% in the past decade, yet President Donald Trump’s administration has pushed for proposals that would make it easier for truck drivers to work 17-hour days, and to remove a 30-minute break requirement for truck drivers who have worked for eight hours straight.
Meanwhile, the Transportation Department has done nothing to advance safety rules that would require automatic emergency braking or electronic speed limiters for big rigs, the statement said.