Black Americans were disproportionately affected by traffic accident fatalities in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic.
When analyzing victims of crashes during the last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that 38,680 people died, which is the largest projected number of deaths since 2007, despite a 13.2 percent decrease in miles traveled from 2019.
More specifically, white motorist deaths grew 4 percent, American Indian fatalities grew 11 percent and Black deaths spiked to 23 percent, which is the largest increase among racial groups. The number is yet another reminder about how the pandemic ravaged African American communities disproportionately and that systemic racism shows up in unexpected places.
“This tells me who was required to travel out and about, and who was allowed to work from home,” Eulois Cleckley, executive director of the Denver Department of Transportation told CNN. “We have a lot of work to do to fix our infrastructure and make it much more safe.”
Black American traffic deaths had already been increasing in recent years as the NHTSA revealed a 16 percent growth from 2005 to 2019. Comparatively, white deaths fell 27.8 percent.
“Same story, different day. That’s unfortunate,” said Charles Brown, who leads the urban planning and policy policy firm Equitable Cities, according to CNN.
Transportation experts say the pandemic worsened long-running inequities and made them more glaring. Alex Karner, a University of Texas-Austin professor who researches the environmental and health effects of transportation, indicates Black Americans have historically borne the brunt of transportation-related impacts. He pointed to the Interstate Highway System, and said Blacks and low-income residents were generally the ones displaced to build it.
CNN inquired with Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg’s office and received a response from the NHTSA who commented on the racial disparity.
“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,” the statement read.