Car accidents kill between 35,000 and 40,000 Americans every year and seriously injure thousands more. While traffic accidents are a danger to all motorists, they impact minorities — particularly black and Hispanic Americans — at a disproportionately high rate.
The uneven impact of car accidents on different races presents an equity challenge. In the following sections, we dive deeper into the data and make public policy recommendations to mitigate this disparity.
Car Accidents Among African Americans
Black Americans suffer a traffic fatality rate 73 percent higher than that of non-Hispanic white Americans, according to the National Safety Council.
The statistics for pedestrians and bicyclists are even more ghastly. Black pedestrians have a death rate 118 percent higher than whites, and the fatality rate for black cyclists compared to whites is 348% higher — and this rate is climbing at a shocking pace.
Car Accidents Among Hispanics
Car accident fatalities are a major problem in Hispanic communities across America. In fact, traffic collisions are the third-leading cause of death among Hispanic Americans, trailing only heart disease and cancer.
Compared to non-Hispanic white Americans, Hispanics die in car accidents at rate that is 83 percent higher. Moreover, the number of Hispanic traffic fatalities in America has increased for 10 consecutive years.
Factors Contributing to Higher Accident Rates
Several factors are responsible for the higher rate of traffic fatalities among black and Hispanic Americans. Perhaps the biggest role is played by socioeconomic disparities. Black and Hispanic Americans tend to be poorer than white Americans and to live in more congested urban regions. An August 2023 report by the New York Times details how lower-income people are more likely to die in car crashes.
Also contributing to higher rates of car accident deaths among minorities is the lack of quality transportation in many American inner cities. Public transportation is often unreliable and unaffordable, which contributes to worsening traffic and deteriorating road conditions. Because of high traffic volumes and a lack of bike lanes, inner-city roads can be unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists.
Seat belt use, which studies indicate is lower among minorities, also plays a factor in disparate death rates, as does vehicle safety — black and Hispanic Americans are more likely to drive older cars with fewer safety features.
Public Policy Prescriptions
So, how can we rectify this problem and mitigate this glaring disparity in car accident deaths between whites and minorities? An easy place to start would be to promote safe driving behavior, such as wearing seat belts and getting regular vehicle inspections.
Transportation officials could also work on designing safer streets, particularly in communities where minorities often live. This means fixing potholes, repairing crumbling sidewalks and adding bike lanes.
Finally, inner-city residents need more transportation options. Imagine how many lives could be saved if residents had the option of staying off the clogged, dangerous streets running through America’s large cities. If we could build more trains, subways and streetcars, traffic deaths would plunge across America — particularly in the communities hit hardest by them now.