Much was written about the rise of dangerous driving habits during the pandemic. It included record numbers of drivers cited for going 100 mph or faster, reckless driving and excessive speed on surface roads, and even people doing Zoom calls while driving. For these reasons and others, this meant that fewer drivers on the road in 2020 had an estimated 38,680 traffic fatalities, which was a 7.2% rise over 2019 in the number of traffic deaths on urban, suburban and rural roads. This is the most traffic fatalities since 2007.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the general rise in fatalities included a 23% rise in traffic deaths among Black Americans. This eye-popping number was much higher than other racial groups.
Why did this happen?
In an interview with NBC News, a University of Connecticut environmental engineering professor explained why Black Americans were more at risk:
“Black people tend to be overrepresented as walkers in this country. 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 fatalit(ies). We’re talking eight to 10 times more. It’s a perfect storm of a lot of horrible forces.”
Making matters worse
Even before 2020, Black pedestrians were 82% more likely to be struck by a vehicle. The risky pandemic driving habits exacerbated this issue in the ways mentioned above, but there were other factors:
- Highways and roads where drivers struck and killed pedestrians often cut through neighborhoods with traditionally higher numbers of Blacks and other minorities.
- These neighborhoods also have a lower tax base and less infrastructure for regular public transport, road maintenance, and modern safety measures like island barriers to protect pedestrians using a crosswalk.
- One 2017 University of Nevada study also found that drivers are less likely to stop or slow down for Black pedestrians at a crosswalk than their White counterparts.
Families deserve justice
Hopefully, news of this jump in fatalities will lead to increased safety for all pedestrians in all neighborhoods. But this is too late for the thousands of families who lost a brother, parent, child or aunt trying to cross a road. Moreover, municipalities may also be liable if they failed to maintain or update all necessary safety measures.