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Car crash fatalities declined in 2019, but NSC says numbers are 'still unacceptable'

ABC News logo ABC News 2/21/2020
a close up of a bridge: Vehicles travel along the I-94 highway in this aerial photograph taken over Chicago, Jan. 8, 2020. © Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images Vehicles travel along the I-94 highway in this aerial photograph taken over Chicago, Jan. 8, 2020.

For the second year in a row the number of people who died in car crashes declined in 2019, according to the National Safety Council’s preliminary estimates released on Thursday.

The data showed an estimated 38,800 people died in motor vehicles on the road last year -- a 2% decrease from 2018.

This was also a 4% drop from 2017 -- where more than 40,000 car crash fatalities were reported, according to the council.

While last year’s numbers did move in the right direction, NSC president and CEO Lorraine M. Martin noted that there is still work to be done.

"Thirty-eight thousand deaths is still unacceptable, even if it is fewer than in years past," Martin said in a statement. "We are encouraged by the actions so many organizations are taking to reduce deaths, and we applaud legislation that curtails common crash causes such as impairment, distraction and speed."

She added, "But as a nation, we still need to demonstrate better commitment to saving lives."

Aside from fatalities, the council recorded 4.4 million people who suffered injuries that resulted from a car crash -- also a 2% decrease from 2018. These injuries were so serious they required medical attention.

The council reported that seven states saw fatalities decline by more than 13% from 2018 -- including Vermont and New Hampshire, which saw the largest drops: 31% and 30%, respectively.

The council noted that research is being conducted to ascertain why the number of deaths have decreased, but it is likely to "lag several years."

NSC does, however, suspect that new "risk mitigation actions," such as Vision Zero models, are the cause. These models aim to increase street safety by taking measures, like restructuring high-crash areas, to lessen risks on the road.

The report also pointed to advanced driver assistance systems -- automatic emergency breaking and backup cameras, for example -- as features that have helped to decrease the number and severity of car crashes, as well as lowering the legal blood alcohol concentration limit -- which Utah has implemented, moving from .08 to .05 -- as a factor contributing to the trend.

a train driving down the road: An undated photo of a highway. © STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images An undated photo of a highway.

When ABC News asked an NSC representative why Vermont and New Hampshire specifically saw the largest decline in car crash fatalities, she said the council doesn’t have that answer just yet.

"We are not able at this particular time to drill down on causality," the NSC representative said, noting that the data is still preliminary.

On the opposite side, six states recorded a more than 5% increase in fatalities: with Maine and Wyoming topping that list at more than 30%.

In the press release, the NSC said the results are "subject to slight increases and decreases as the data mature."

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