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‘People That Walk …Tend to Experience a Much Higher Rate of Traffic Fatality’: Studies Reveal Why Black and Hispanic Americans Are More Likely to Die In Traffic-Related Accidents Than Whites 

Two studies have been published showing the disproportionate statistics that show when it comes to traffic-related accidents, Blacks and Hispanics die at a greater rate than whites. One scholar surmised that mile for mile certain minorities are more in danger of dying in a motor-vehicle assault than whites, regardless of the time of day, or if they are walking, cycling, or driving their own vehicle.

In 2022, both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH), and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health released reports that showed not only traffic fatalities are at an all-time high and that Black and Hispanics die at a higher rate across multiple modes of transportation in accidents. 

The federal report, released in May 2022 and obtained by Atlanta Black Star, estimated 42,915 people lost their lives in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2021, a 10.5 percent increase from the 38,824 fatalities in the previous year. Based on those numbers last year was the highest number of deaths connected to traffic accidents since 2005 and “the largest annual percentage increase in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System’s history.”

 The U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a press release about the study, “We face a crisis on America’s roadways that we must address together.” Adding that the Biden administration’s National Roadway Safety Strategy and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will help make roadways safer, an act he believes is “critical” to “help reverse this devastating trend and save lives.”

According to the study, fatalities were up in multi-vehicle instances, urban road ups, drivers 65 and above, pedestrians walking near traffic, and more.

The universities’ report, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (AJPM) and titled “Disparities in Activity and Traffic Fatalities by Race/ Ethnicity,” was released on June 7 and called the growing number of traffic fatalities, “a major public health challenge.”

The yearlong research, 2021 to 2022, reviewed three years of traffic deaths as reported by the U.S. Fatality Analysis Reporting System from 2016 to 2018 to figure out their results.

What was discovered is that Black Americans died at more than four times the rate of white Americans while cycling on their bikes — 33.71 per 100 million miles traveled, compared against 7.53 per 100 million miles for whites — despite whites biking four times more than Blacks. It also found that Blacks were more than twice as likely to die while walking due to a traffic accident — 40.92 per 100 million miles traveled, compared against 18.77 for whites — and nearly two times the rate per 100 million miles when the transports is by car. 

The study considered accidents that happen during different times of the day and discovered Americans of African descent are 3.4 times more likely to die in the evening time due to a traffic-related incident than whites. Hispanic Americans have similar rates to Blacks when it comes to traffic fatalities.

Race and ethnic identities aside, the statistics show that more people who die in traffic-related accidents are struck while walking. Cycling accounts for the second-most dangerous mode of transport, and riding/driving in a car is the behind.

Researchers speculated these racial disparities could be due to the circumstances around Black and brown travel in the United States. 

“The study provides a more accurate assessment of racial/ethnic disparities in traffic deaths than previous traffic mortality studies, which have not accounted for these differences in travel distances, and thus, underestimated both the traffic-related risks and deaths that Black and Hispanic Americans experience,” a Harvard review of the study explained. “These findings may also point to structural racism within the US transportation system, the researchers say.”

The conditions around the commutes that many POC workers, students, or party revelers are often not safe for a plethora of reasons like inadequate traffic lights, street lighting, signs, sidewalks, poor roads, and more.

Norman Garrick, a civil and environmental engineering professor at the University of Connecticut, spoke about the phenomenon in 2021 to NBC News, saying, “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 fatality,” he continued. “We’re talking eight to 10 times more. It’s a perfect storm of a lot of horrible forces.”

Matthew Raifman, the coauthor of the AJPM study led by Harvard and Boston University scholars, stated about the findings, “We have created a system where walking and cycling are more dangerous than driving, and where Black and Hispanic Americans are at greater risk of fatality per mile traveled than White Americans.”

“It’s important to consider these disparities in traffic fatalities within the context of a transport system that suffers from racial bias—from the placement of roads, to traffic stops, to the way that ride-hail applications pair riders with drivers.” 

Like Buttigieg, Raifman also contends Americans should seriously consider supporting and making sure the president’s infrastructure initiatives come to fruition.

He said, “President Biden recently signed into law the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which sends billions to states and localities to improve roadway safety.”

“Addressing disparities in protected bike lane infrastructure, improving road crossings, and prioritizing pedestrian safety,” he said. “And enforcing red light violations and speeding are just a few potential interventions to consider.”

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