(Adds automaker reaction)
By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON, Oct 6 (Reuters) - U.S. traffic deaths jumped 5.6 percent in 2016 to a decade-high of 37,461, and pedestrians killed rose 9 percent to 5,987, the highest number since 1990, the U.S. auto safety agency said on Friday.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said fatalities rose 2.6 percent to 1.18 deaths per 100 million miles driven, outpacing the mileage increase in 2016.
This was the second straight year of a sharp rise in U.S. traffic deaths. In 2015, they rose 8.4 percent, the single highest yearly jump in motor vehicle deaths since 1964.
Before 2015 U.S. traffic deaths had been falling for a decade as automakers added anti-rollover technologies and more air bags, the agency said in a report. Automakers are also adding features to help avoid rear-end crashes and other driver errors.
The last time traffic deaths were higher was in 2007, when 41,259 were killed on U.S. roads.
Bicyclist deaths rose 1.3 percent to the highest number since 1991, the data showed.
Deaths involving distracted drivers fell by 2.2 percent to 3,450 deaths, while drowsy deaths decreased by 3.5 percent. Distractions include talking or texting on the phone, eating, drinking and fiddling with the stereo or navigation system.
Drunk driving deaths rose 1.7 percent to 10,497 and speeding-related deaths increased 4 percent to 10,111. The agency said 2,500 deaths would have been prevented if all occupants wore safety belts.
Senior citizen drivers are accounting for a rising number of traffic deaths, the report showed. Drivers in fatal crashes aged 65 and above rose 8.2 percent last year.
The report may provide more ammunition for automakers and technology companies which are pushing Congress to pass legislation to help speed self-driving cars to market. A Senate committee unanimously passed such legislation earlier this week.
John Bozzella, chief executive of Global Automakers, an industry association whose members include Toyota Motor Corp , Hyundai Motor Co and Honda Motor Co , said in a statement that the news was disheartening.
“We are on the verge of taking a quantum leap in road safety with the deployment of driver assists, connected vehicles, and automated technologies that will help address and mitigate the main causes of fatalities, human error and impairment,” he said.
Reuters reported on Friday that the Trump administration had not nominated a candidate to head the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which remains without much of its permanent leadership team. (Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Alden Bentley and Richard Chang)