Though final stats on traffic fatalities for 2014 won't be available until later this year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has already issued a preliminary report that shows some encouraging trends. However, parts of the country still have plenty of room for improvement. (Looking at you, Midwest.)
The good news is, NHTSA projects a slight year-over-year decline in the total number of roadway fatalities. In 2013, a total of 32,719 people died in traffic accidents in the U.S., including drivers, passengers, and pedestrians. In 2014, NHTSA projects that number to slip to 32,675, a dip of 0.1 percent.
The better news is that the fatality rate is expected to hit a record low. That rate is determined by comparing the total number of miles driven on U.S. roads with the number of deaths. With the exception of 2012, the fatality rate has been declining steadily for a full decade. (No one is quite sure why 2012 saw a slight uptick in fatalities; some attribute it to the fact that 2012 was a leap year, but so was 2008, and there was no rise then.)
In 2013, NHTSA says that 1.09 people died for every 100 million vehicle miles traveled in the U.S. In 2014, the number is projected to fall to 1.08 -- which may not seem substantial, but in figures like this, every tiny point counts. The decline is due not only to the small dip in fatalities, but also to the fact that traffic surged in the U.S. last year: all told, Americans put about 27.3 billion additional miles on their odometers in 2014.
That said, it's not all good news: as you can see from the graphic above, some regions fared better than others. Portions of the Midwest, in particular, have some improving to do. The region containing Colorado, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming had the highest projected increase in fatalities for 2014: nine percent. Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas saw a four percent increase, as did Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
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However, those increases were countered by declines in other areas of the country. A different portion of the Midwest comprised of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin saw fatalities fall five percent, and the region of Arizona, California, and Hawaii dropped four percent. The biggest drop came in the densely populated area of New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, where traffic deaths dipped six percent.
As tantalizing as these projects are, NHTSA doesn't offer anything in the way of explanations of declines (or increases). For that, we'll probably have to wait until December, when final numbers are released.
Want to look over some charts? You'll find NHTSA preliminary report on 2014 fatalities in this PDF.