Motor Vehicle Deaths Topped 40,000 Again in 2017

If preliminary count holds, fatalities on U.S. roads leveled off last year after the steepest two-year increase in more than half a century, one agency says.

Emergency workers at auto accident, British Columbia, Canada.

For a second year in a row, car accidents killed more than 40,000 Americans.

That's according to a preliminary count released this week by the National Safety Council, which estimates 40,100 motor vehicle deaths in the U.S. last year. The figure is down 1 percent from 2016, when 40,327 lives were lost on U.S. roadways. 

The slight leveling off in 2017 follows the steepest two-year increase in more than 50 years, and last year's death count is 6 percent higher than just two years earlier, in 2015, the NSC said.

"The main recommendation we have for people is to buckle up," a spokesperson for the NSC told The Drive. The council also stresses "road safety legislation, enforcement and education," she added.

New Hampshire, for instance, "still doesn't have a seat belt law," and use of the life-saving devices runs about 67 percent in the state, versus about 90.1 percent nationally, the spokesperson said.

Approximately 4.57 million people were seriously injured in motor vehicle crashes in 2017, and costs to society totaled $413.8 billion, according to the council. Both figures are about 1 percent lower than 2016 calculations.

"Complacency is killing us. The only acceptable number is zero," NSC President and CEO Deborah A.P. Hersman, said in a statement.

To ensure safer roads, the NSC urges motorists to buckle up and not to drive impaired. It also urged drivers to avoid cell phones and other distractions when behind the wheel, and to urge lawmakers to enact strong traffic safety laws. 

The NSC has been tracking fatality trends for almost 100 years, and collects its data from a variety of sources to ensure that its estimates include deaths that occur on private roadways such as parking lots and driveways are included.