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New Report Finds Traffic Fatalities Disproportionately Affect Black and Indigenous People

New Report Finds Traffic Fatalities Disproportionately Affect Black and Indigenous People

Last year – 2020 – was the year of the pandemic. Most of us stayed home, telecommuting or taking online classes. However, hundreds of thousands of essential workers continued at their jobs, driving back and forth to work each day. Even with a drastically reduced amount of vehicles on the road, traffic fatalities increased during the pandemic. Sadly, these fatalities were even higher for certain segments of the population.

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) recently released the results of a five-year data analysis of traffic fatalities by race and ethnicity. The findings were troubling, showing that even before the jump in traffic fatalities brought on by 2020’s coronavirus pandemic, Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) were killed at a rate higher than white persons.

The report, published in mid-June, “identifies actions states and communities can undertake when considering traffic enforcement, safety education and community outreach to better serve BIPOC communities and reduce crashes, injuries and deaths for those who have been most affected by race-related disparities in transportation.”

About the study

Titled “An Analysis of Traffic Fatalities by Race and Ethnicity,” the study is the first of its kind and aims to promote equitable outcomes in traffic safety for all roadway users. Researchers studied national traffic crash and fatality data from 2015 to 2019. Key findings from the report include:

  • American Indian/Alaskan Native persons had the highest per-capita rate of total traffic fatalities.
  • American Indian/Alaskan Native persons had the highest rate of total traffic fatalities, speeding-related fatalities, and pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities.
  • Black persons had the second highest rate of total traffic deaths, pedestrian traffic deaths and bicyclist traffic deaths.
  • In motorcyclist deaths, traffic fatality rates for white persons were higher than those for BIPOC.
  • White, Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander, Hispanic and Asian persons had lower-than-average fatality rates.

Previous studies have shown that minority communities tend to intersect with dangerous roads, leading to what’s known as “safety inequity” in transportation. Slow emergency response time and lack of access to proper follow-up care can play a role in these fatalities, the study also noted, although more research is needed.

Charles Brown, a Planning and Public Policy professor at Rutgers University, tells the New York Times, “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. 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?”

He added, “What they’ve had historically is a disproportionate share of enforcement. What they need now is a disproportionate share of investment in infrastructure.”

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg also weighed in, saying in a statement to the New York Times, “Last year’s traffic fatality rates and the racial disparities reflected in them are unacceptable. 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.”

Key takeaways from the study

In a press release, the GHSA noted a variety of actions State Highway Safety Offices (SHSOs) can take to help ensure the safety of BIPOC in their communities:

  • Prioritizing investment and planning into infrastructure safety in underserved communities and neighborhoods suffering from bias and disenfranchisement.
  • Understanding that traffic death fatalities are a health disparity issue and considering a public health approach (similar to poverty or mental health) to traffic crash prevention.
  • Supporting and ensuring diverse representation in transportation leadership positions in local and state government.
  • Developing new and research-supported methods to prevent traffic deaths before they happen, or before law enforcement activity is necessary.
  • Assessing how and if current traffic enforcement methods may exacerbate racial and socioeconomic issues, and then working to identify and implement solutions.
  • Working with BIPOC communities on safety education and outreach campaigns that address the needs of specific communities.

Jonathan Adkins, Executive Director of the GHSA, told StreetsBlogUSA, “This problem didn’t happen overnight, and it won’t be fixed overnight. But we have to begin taking meaningful steps forward every day to make our roads safe for all people and communities.”


The attorneys at McGowan, Hood & Felder, LLC fight for victims of systemic racism and bias. If you believe discrimination led to your injury or accident, contact us today for compassionate help and guidance. To schedule a free consultation with one of our South Carolina attorneys, call 803-327-7800, or we invite you to reach out to us through our contact page.