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Road-related fatalities jump among African-Americans

There were countless media stories about the rise in reckless driving amidst the pandemic. Despite fewer cars on the road because of job losses, shutdowns and work from home orders, there were still 38,680 road-related fatalities in 2020, with numbers up in urban, suburban and rural areas. There was a 14% increase in the number of deaths per mile traveled. It was also an overall 7.2 percent increase in fatality totals over 2019 and the highest total since 2007.

This data was not good news regardless of how analysts looked at it, but what jumped out was that road-related fatalities among Black people went up a shocking 23%. It was by far the highest number when analysts categorized the deaths were by race.

An environmental engineering professor from the University of Connecticut parsed through these numbers and came up with an explanation:

“Black people tend to be overrepresented as walkers in this country,” said the professor. “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.”

Making matters worse

Drivers in motor vehicles were 82% more likely to hit black pedestrians than other racial groups before the pandemic. The dangers increased because:

  • Speeds went up: Reckless drivers took advantage of the empty roads to drive well above posted speed limits on highways and surface roads.
  • Near highways: Neighborhoods that traditionally have larger percentages of Blacks and people of color are more often adjacent to or intersected by highways, which means more people in these neighborhoods try to cross or walk along these roadways.
  • Less infrastructure: Communities with less tax revenue may not get as much funding for surface road maintenance, design updates with more safety features (like protected walkways, proper street lighting, etc.) and less reliable public transport.

A University of Nevada study from 2017 also found that drivers were less likely to slow or stop for African-American pedestrians than Caucasian ones.

All victims deserve justice

These statistics will hopefully prompt federal, state and local officials to take steps in making the roads safer in pandemic or post-pandemic times. Regardless of agencies action or inaction, victims and their families can still hold individual drivers accountable for their reckless behavior.