Traffic deaths reached 40,000 for the third year in a row in 2018 according to the National Safety Council, reversing a downward trend that saw fatalities dip below that number for several years in prior years. There was an all-time low in 2014 when 32,744 people lost their lives on the roadways. The highest recorded total was in 1972 when 55,600 were killed in car accidents. Serious injuries sustained in car accidents remained high at 4.5 million last year.
In past years when traffic fatalities were substantially high, safety advocates and groups like Mothers Against Drunk Drivers lobbied hard for stricter penalties and enforcement of traffic laws. For a time following the oil crisis in the mid-1970s when speed limits were lowered, highway deaths dipped a bit before creeping up again when too many complaints about the slower limits forced lawmakers to raise speeds.