According to a recent NBC News article, ” 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.” The disparity in the statistics is alarming and should raise concerns.
An estimated 38,680 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2020 — the largest projected number of deaths since 2007, according to 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.
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.
“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.”
Of course, traffic fatality statistics are open to various interpretations and no single interpretation encompasses the entire scope of the problem. What we need to focus on is solutions to this disparity.