Seat belt and sobriety laws are given much of the credit, along with safety improvements on vehicles.
Highway deaths last year fell to their lowest level since 1949, but the number of bicyclists and pedestrians dying on America's roads continued to rise, federal safety regulators said Monday.
Overall traffic fatalities fell 1.9 percent to 32,367 in 2011, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Road deaths have been falling steadily for some time, the agency said, and last year's level represented a 26 percent decline from 2005.
"In the past several decades, we've seen remarkable improvements in both the way motorists behave on our roadways and in the safety of the vehicles they drive," said administrator David L. Strickland.
He said police enforcement of seat belt and sobriety laws have played a key role.
But bicycle deaths rose 8.7 percent to 677 and pedestrian deaths rose 3 percent to 4,432, the agency said. Seventy percent of all bicycle-related deaths involve head injuries but barely one-third of cyclists wear helmets, the report said.
Another group showing an increase in road deaths were occupants of large trucks. Fatalities in that category rose 20 percent to 635, possibly a result of more truckers being on the road as the economy recovers.
In the coming year, the Highway Administration will be working on final safety standards that would require electronic stability control technology on large trucks -- it is mandatory on all new cars sold -- and improve tire performance standards.
While 36 states saw reductions in overall traffic fatalities last year, highway deaths in California increased 2.6 percent to 2,791. It tied with New Jersey for the greatest increase in the number of fatalities, up 71.
Nationally, deaths in crashes involving drunken drivers dropped 2.5 percent in 2011, killing 9,878 people, compared with 10,136 in 2010.
The Los Angeles Times and Washington Post contributed to this article.