One of the most frustrating things that arises when trying to talk about race is that white America seems to operate under the assumption that racism is literally just saying the N-word. As we all know, racism is often systemic and it can show up in places you wouldn’t even imagine. Take for instance traffic deaths. Despite the number of miles driven decreasing last year as a result of the pandemic, traffic deaths increased with Black people dying at a rate that was almost 25 percent higher than white people.
The Washington Post reports that traffic deaths in general rose 7 percent according to a report released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). For Black people, that number increased by 23 percent. While the federal report doesn’t provide a reason for the spike, experts and researchers believe that it came as the result of existing inequities that were exacerbated by the pandemic.
“Safety inequity in transportation is really an old issue,” Corinne Peek-Asa, a professor at the University of Iowa’s Department of Occupational and Environmental Health, told the Washington Post. “It’s those historic factors that have led to the potential for increased inequities during covid.”
Predominantly Black neighborhoods tend to have fewer crosswalks and roads that aren’t kept in great condition. Given that Black people were also more likely to have jobs they couldn’t do from home during the pandemic and also had to walk or rely on public transportation, they were more likely to be endangered by drivers going at high rates of speed.
From the Washington Post:
NHTSA estimated that 38,680 people were killed in crashes nationwide last year, and said that 7,494 of them were Black.
A new study released Tuesday by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) highlights the disparities. It analyzed data from 2015 to 2019 and found that in different types of traffic crashes, Black people were killed at higher rates than White people. Black pedestrians were killed at a rate twice as high.
Charles Brown, a professor at Rutgers University’s School of Planning and Public Policy, said the figures leave transportation officials facing a simple question.
“We’ve all been socialized, in a way, to believe that Black death is due to Black behavior when instead we know infrastructure influences behavior,” said Brown, who is the founder of planning firm Equitable Cities. “If that is true, we need investments in quality infrastructure in Black communities. How many more Black people do we have to lose before that is the number one priority?”
Poor infrastructure can often be traced as one the reasons Black people tend to always be disproportionately affected by the worst this country has to offer. The Biden administration has made infrastructure one of its top priorities, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has said that the administration intends to propose spending $20 billion to improve road conditions and traffic safety to reduce crashes and deaths.
“Last year’s traffic fatality rates and the racial disparities reflected in them are unacceptable,” Buttigieg said in a statement. “This reflects broader patterns of inequity in our country—and it underscores the urgent work we must undertake as a nation to make our roads safer for every American.”
The NHTSA released a statement calling the statistics “disturbing” and said it would continue to analyze the data from the various states to have a better understanding of why these disparities exist.