Car accidents are still a leading cause of death in the United States (although they’re still not really comparable to heart disease and cancer, which rank numbers one and two). Vehicle-related fatalities run in the tens of thousands per year, but there’s good news: The number of fatalities is on the decline two years running. Around 36,500 people were killed in 2018, but that represented an important 2.4 percent reduction in the number of average annual deaths.
Statistics for car accident fatalities can be difficult to look at, because they often hit peaks and troughs. In 1970, for example, the number of deaths hit a peak of 52,627 in the United States. They then declined until 1975, getting down to 44,525 before beginning to climb once again. They’ve been going up and down ever since, but the overall trend for the past decade is down, down, down.
A big dip occurred between 2007 and 2008, from 41,259 to 37,423 dead.
Why are car accident fatalities going down so much? A lot of reasons, but there are two big ones. First, it’s important to know that pedestrian deaths are included in yearly car accident fatality statistics. That means anyone hit by a car when out for a walk becomes a number on a graph. Sadly, pedestrian deaths have actually been trending up. This is in part because more people have been exercising alongside roads over the past decade.
There’s hope that this number will decline as more people begin to use the dedicated foot traffic pathways or bike paths that are being built at increasing rates. The number will also likely diminish as onboard artificial intelligence software begins to use driverless technology to stop whenever a pedestrian gets in the way. This technology is expected to be implemented at a much higher rate over the next few years.
That same technology will likely reduce the number of car accidents in general even further. Automated software has been implemented slowly over the past decade: features like automated parking, rearview camera, and automated braking are included in almost every new model of vehicle sold. As more people transition to newer models, we can expect the number of car accident fatalities and pedestrian deaths to go way, way down.
Although it seems nearly impossible, we might be approaching the day when the number almost disappears completely. That’s because full automation is probably coming within at least another decade. If politicians decide to enforce laws banning other vehicles from city roads, for example, then we can expect the number of people killed in car accidents to flatline.