The roads here in the Chicagoland area can be treacherous at times. But according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Americans drove fewer miles in 2020, yet there were an estimated 38,680 road-related fatalities. This is the largest number since 2007, a 14% jump in the number of deaths per mile traveled in 2019, and a general 7.2% increase over 2019.
These numbers are notable, but what stands out is that a shocking 23% of the fatalities were Black Americans. That number is larger than any other racial group.
Pedestrian numbers a factor
Many factors contributed to the uneven number of fatalities. According to University of Connecticut environmental engineer: “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 fatalities. We’re talking eight to 10 times more. It’s a perfect storm of a lot of horrible forces.”
A longstanding problem made worse
Studies show that Black pedestrians are 82% more likely to be hit by drivers in cars and trucks over the last ten years. Poor driving habits in 2020 made the numbers worse:
- Fewer vehicles on the road meant that drivers drove faster on highways and surface roads.
- Highways often cut through communities with traditionally higher numbers of Black Americans and other people of color.
- Communities with a lower tax base often have less infrastructure for reliable public transportation, are less likely to maintain roadways and less likely to update them with modern safety features.
While conducted a few years ago, a 2017 University of Nevada study also found that drivers were less likely to slow down or stop for Black pedestrians than they would for White ones.
Drivers need to be more careful
This is a disturbing trend, and now that local, state and federal officials are aware of the problem, there is a chance to improve pedestrian safety in communities of color. It may prove harder to change the driving habits of reckless individual drivers, but the injured and their families can still seek justice to hold negligent drivers accountable.