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Washington — U.S. road deaths fell 3.1 percent in 2013 to 32,719 — a return to falling traffic deaths after they rose in 2012 for the first time in five years.

While the number of people killed in cars fell to the lowest number since at least 1975, the number of pedestrians killed didn’t fall as fast — and the number of bicyclists killed rose.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said road deaths have fallen by nearly 25 percent since 2004. The number of people injured in crashes also declined by 2.1 percent.

By contrast, road deaths in Michigan in 2013 rose 2 percent from 936 in 2012 to 951 last year.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx praised the decline.

“With the holidays upon us, I give thanks that more of our friends and family are with us this year because of the broad partnership of safety-driven individuals and organizations who have joined us in making our roads safer for everyone, ” Foxx said. “Safety truly is a shared responsibility and we’ve all got more work to do in the New Year to keep more families together.”

In a sign that newer cars may be safer, the number of crashes rose in 2013 — but the number of people injured and killed fell.

Crashes reported to police rose from 5.62 million to 5.69 million, but the number injured fell from 2.36 million to 2.31 million.

NHTSA said the U.S. fatality rate matching a historic low was 1.10 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2013, down from 1.14 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2012.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the trade group representing Detroit’s Big Three automakers, Toyota Motor Corp., Volkswagen AG and others, hailed the numbers.

“As NHTSA’s figures for 2013 show, today’s roads are safer than ever. And automakers, government, road builders, enforcement officials and others are all continuing their work to reduce road fatalities and injuries even further,” Alliance spokesman Wade Newton said. “Automakers compete with one another to produce the safest vehicles. Lane departure warnings, blind spot detection systems and crash-imminent braking are just a few of the most important technologies already available on many new cars, trucks and SUVs. And this government data show that today’s consumers are benefiting from a full range of safety technologies that help drivers avoid crashes, and reduce injuries when a crash is unavoidable.”

Alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities decreased by 2.5 percent in 2013 to 10,076, accounting for 31 percent of the overall fatalities in 2013. NHTSA said 34 states experienced reductions in overall traffic fatalities, led by Ohio (132 fewer fatalities), Kentucky (108 fewer), Pennsylvania (102 fewer), South Carolina (96 fewer) and Arkansas (77 fewer).

The number of passenger vehicle occupants killed in crashes declined by 3 percent to 21,132 — the lowest number on record dating back to 1975. NHTSA also said large truck occupant deaths fell 0.9 percent and motorcyclist deaths fell 6.4 percent — both for the first time since 2009.

NHTSA said there were 11 times as many unhelmeted motorcyclist fatalities in states without universal helmet laws (1,704 unhelmeted fatalities) as in states with universal helmet laws (150 unhelmeted fatalities) in 2013.

Michigan deaths among those confirmed to have been riding without a helmet climbed 9 percent in 2013, to 60 from 55 the previous year. In 2013, 63 who died were helmeted and 67 were wearing helmets in 2013.

Michigan’s mandatory helmet law was changed in 2012. Now, riders may go without helmets if they carry $20,000 in additional medical insurance; are 21 or older; have at least two years of riding experience; or have passed a safety training test.

The number of children under five killed in car crashes fell from 406 to 396.

The number of people injured in large truck crashes fell to 95,000 down from 104,000 -- an issue that’s got a lot of attention after actor Tracy Morgan was seriously injured by a sleep-deprived driver in New Jersey. But deaths rose to 3,964 from 3,944

Pedestrian fatalities declined by 1.7 percent to 4,735, but remains 15 percent higher than the record low of 4,109 pedestrian fatalities in 2009. Bicyclists fatalities increased by 1.2 percent, the highest since 2006.

NHTSA also said the number of people killed in distraction-affected crashes fell to 3,154 in 2013 from 3,380 in 2012, a 6.7 percent decrease. However, the estimated number of people injured in distraction-affected crashes (424,000) increased by 1 percent versus 2012.

“Almost 90 people on average lose their lives each day — and more than 250 are injured every hour – due to drunk driving, not wearing a seat-belt, and the many other factors associated with traffic crashes,” said NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman. “As we work each day at NHTSA, these are tragic reminders of the importance of our efforts and how we must build on our many successes and continue to work even harder to protect the American public.”

DShepardson@detroitnews.com

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