Fatal Traffic Accidents Involving Black People Skyrocket During Pandemic


Police investigate the scene of an six car accident after an elderly woman driver severly injured a cyclist and collided with the other vehicles at the entrance to the historic Santa Monica Pier in Santa Monica, California on April 19, 2017.

Photo: MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images

There has been a startling rise in the number of fatal car crashes involving Black passengers and drivers. Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicates that there was a 23% increase in the number of fatal car accidents involving Black passengers and drivers in 2020. In comparison, there was only a 4% increase in the number of fatal traffic accidents involving white drivers last year.

Experts argue that this could be the result of the chaotic year that was 2020. During the pandemic, essential workers were still asked to travel to work each day. Given that these jobs are often filled by Black workers, they are on the road more often than others.

"These are the communities that were our essential workers across the country," Destiny Thomas of Thrivance Group told ABC News.

"Black folks, in particular, were more likely to suffer the negative impacts of compounding the location of disparity. Being a city worker means that you're at greater risk because you're on the road more than everyone, but it's also high-stakes driving. These are people who are getting paid hourly rates. If you're late three minutes, you're more likely to lose your job, and of course during a time of economic downturn and insecurity that pressure makes you make different types of decisions on the road."

Thomas also suggests that infrastructure could be the reason for these fatal accidents. Less drivers on the road during the COVID-19 pandemic can also mean that more people were speeding on the road. If drivers are moving faster than normal through an underdeveloped area that lacks sidewalks, working traffic lights or proper crosswalks, there is a higher potential for a fatal accident.

"Everyone during the pandemic was driving faster because the roads were not as congested. So the implications for that in a community that has no functioning signal, less crossing opportunities, uneven pavement or unexpected community-wide construction [are worse]. There are still entire communities that don't have sidewalks. These things make sort of a perfect storm for increased fatality rates in Black families," Thomas explained.

Unfortunately, these trends are not new. Data from the Governors Highway Safety Association over the last few years had indicated that fatal traffic accidents "disproportionately affect Black, Indigenous, and People of Color." Moving forward, the Governors Highway Safety Association has said that will do more to address traffic safety in underserved communities.

"I think we also need to better engage these communities in the planning as well. We want to have people from communities involved in the highway safety planning process," Martin Russ of the GHSA explained to ABC News.

"We want to hear these diverse voices."

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