Black Americans — Deaths Increased From Auto Accidents by 23% in 2020

Black people are substantially more likely to die in traffic accidents than white men or women according to a recent announcement from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Black deaths significantly increased, even during the peak of the quarantine, when people were driving less. Char Adams of NBC News reported “Even in the early days of the pandemic, the National Safety Council found that the emptier roads were proving to be more deadly, with a 14% jump in roadway deaths per miles driven in March,” Adams reported. “Black people are more likely to face traffic injuries in general; from 2010-2019, Black pedestrians were 82% more likely to be hit by drivers, according to a 2021 report from Smart Growth America, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group focused on urban development.”

Systemic Disparities

Adams also announced that “an estimated 38,680 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2020 — and “the number of Black people who died in such crashes was up 23% from 2019, the largest increase in traffic deaths among [all] racial groups.” In an interview with Adams, Norman Garrick, a civil and environmental engineering professor, said that while the numbers were alarming, he was not surprised by them.

Garrick and academics in his field say the increasing trend of Black deaths due to auto accidents is yet another example of the ongoing and persisting systemic racism in the country. 

Worsened By Pandemic

“Black people tend to be overrepresented as walkers in this country,” Garrick said. “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 fatalities. We’re talking eight to 10 times more. It’s a perfect storm of a lot of horrible forces.”

Calvin Gladney, president of Smart Growth America, told Adams that COVID-19 exacerbated a trio of problems the country has long struggled to overcome infrastructure problems, poor design and planning choices and ongoing racial division. 

Fewer Public Safety Designs

According to Gladney, Black neighborhoods tend to have fewer crosswalks, warning signs and other mechanisms designed to enhance public safety. Combine that with the number of high-speed highways that cross through communities of color, and you have a sure-fire recipe for disaster.

“These fatalities have been going upward for a decade,” Gladney told NBC. “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.”

Less Likely To Slow Down For Blacks

Gladney also blamed the problem on social racism, citing a 2017 study from the University of Nevada that found “drivers are less likely to slow down or stop for Black pedestrians than they are for white ones.”

Gladney thinks with increased awareness, funding and intentionality to get to racial equity and close the disparities, we actually can fix these issues that people have been ignoring” on the same streets and same before the pandemic.

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