Study Finds Black People Are More Likely to Die in Traffic Accidents and the Coronavirus Pandemic Made It Worse

Travelers are stuck in a traffic jam as people hit the road before the busy Thanksgiving Day weekend in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., November 21, 2017. REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski/File Photo

Black people represented the largest increase in traffic deaths last year than any other racial group, even as Americans drove less overall due to the pandemic, according to recently released data.

An estimated 38,680 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2020 — the largest projected number of deaths since 2007, according the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The number of Black people who died in such crashes was up 23 percent from 2019, the largest increase in traffic deaths among racial groups, according to the administration’s report.

Norman Garrick, a civil and environmental engineering professor at the University of Connecticut, said the numbers are saddening, but not surprising.

“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 fatality. We’re talking eight to 10 times more. It’s a perfect storm of a lot of horrible forces.”

This most likely represents yet another way the health crisis has had an outsize effect on Black people. 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 percent jump in roadway deaths per miles driven in March. And Black people are more likely to face traffic injuries in general; from 2010-2019, Black pedestrians were 82 percent 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.

Calvin Gladney, president of Smart Growth America, said the pandemic has only exacerbated the longstanding problem. He said 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 said. And 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.

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SOURCE: NBC News, Char Adams

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