According to newly released data, Black people accounted for the greatest increase in traffic deaths than any other race group last year, even though Americans drove less due to the pandemic.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 38,680 people were killed in motor vehicle traffic accidents in 2020. This is the highest number of deaths since 2007. According to the administration’s report, the number of Black people killed in these crashes rose 23 percent over 2019. This is the highest increase in traffic deaths among all racial groups.
Norman Garrick, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Connecticut said, “that the numbers were not surprising but saddening.”
Garrick stated that “This is not by choice. In many cases, Black folks cannot afford motor vehicles. And people that walk in this country tend to experience a much, much higher rate of traffic fatality. We’re talking eight to 10 times more. It’s a perfect storm of a lot of horrible forces.”
This is likely to be another example of how the health crisis has had a significant impact on Black people. The National Safety Council discovered that roads with less capacity were more dangerous in the initial days of the pandemic. There was a 14 percent increase in road deaths per mile driven in March, which is a significant jump from the previous year. Black people are more susceptible to traffic injuries. According to a report by Smart Growth America (a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization focused on urban development), Black pedestrians were 82% more likely to be struck by motorists between 2010 and 2019.
Smart Growth America president Calvin Gladney said, “the pandemic has only exacerbated the longstanding problem.” Gladney went on to say, “there are three major reasons Black people bear the brunt of roadway injuries; infrastructure, design and racism. Predominantly Black neighborhoods are less likely to have crosswalks, warning signs and other safety mechanisms. He also stated that, “many high-speed highways are in or go through communities of color, thanks to a federal effort in the 1950s to modernize the nation’s roadways.”
“These fatalities have been going upward for a decade,” Gladney said. “You go to Black and brown communities, you go to lower-income communities and you don’t see many sidewalks. You don’t see as many pedestrian crossings. The types of streets that go through Black and brown neighborhoods are like mini highways where the speed limit is 35 or 45. You see this disproportionately in Black and brown communities often because of race-based decisions of the past.”
Black residents live in poor neighborhoods with little to and no infrastructure funding. This means they have limited access to public transportation, unsafe proximity to waste sites, and poor roads. Gladney also pointed out that traffic fatalities are increasing due to social racism. A University of Nevada 2017 study found that drivers are less likely than white pedestrians to slow down or stop.
Gladney stated that while the situation is not ideal, efforts such as President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion American Jobs Plan (which includes efforts to improve public transportation accessibility and road safety) are necessary.
He stated that small policy changes such as lowering speed limits in certain areas could save hundreds of people’s lives every year. Federal initiatives like the 2021 Complete Streets Act — introduced by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) — would ensure that public roads are safe for all modes of travel.
Gladney said that the pandemic highlighted issues people had been neglecting. These are the same streets as the roads that have been there for centuries. We can actually fix this if we are able to have the intention to achieve racial equity, and close the gaps.