Car Crashes Aren't As Random As We Once Thought

Car crashes should be the great equalizer, but they disproportionately affect people of color and lower-income Americans.
Written by Andrew Kidd
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
More than 115 Americans have been dying in
vehicle crashes
on American roads on average every day in 2022—but the racial and financial makeup of those casualties are disproportionately skewed.

Low-income and people of color are more likely to die in auto accidents

While Americans of all demographics drive every day, automobile accident deaths are not the great equalizer you'd think they were. Per
The New York Times
, research demonstrates that those with lower incomes are substantially more likely to die in car accidents than those in the upper-class brackets.
And it's become apparent now that the U.S. is experiencing a surge in car-related deaths.
Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg recently called it a national crisis, with black Americans and lower-income Americans taking the brunt of the death toll—and researchers still don't really know why.
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NYT reports that since the 1970s, automotive death rates have fallen as vehicles became safer in the wake of laws enforcing seatbelts and discouraging drunk driving. This trend continued into the 2010s as vehicle safety and crash prevention features became more standard.
But that trend reversed in the middle of the decade thanks to distracted driving—spurred primarily by the rise of the smartphone. NYT notes that two out of three U.S. adults had a smartphone in 2015 compared with practically zero just 10 years prior.
American vehicles are also getting larger compared with those in Europe, which has seen a greater decrease in vehicle-related fatalities. 
But data shows that the most drastic increases in vehicle-related deaths happened since the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw the vehicle crash death rate rise by about 20 percent compared to before the pandemic. NYT notes that it's the biggest increase since the 1940s.

How does COVID cause traffic accidents?

Researchers think that the side effects of prolonged isolation from the pandemic—such as increased drug and alcohol use—and straight-up anger and frustration have possibly affected Americans' driving abilities. 
But this isn't a trend in other countries; the U.S. is the only one that saw such an increase in crashes during the pandemic. And as COVID-19 restrictions let up, researchers note that vehicle deaths have declined a little.
But researchers still found that people of color and lower-income Americans are still disproportionately affected by vehicle crashes.

Why are these groups affected?

Much like how the COVID-19 pandemic affected people of color and lower-income Americans the most, car crashes seem to discriminate just as much. 
Historically, research has shown that less affluent Americans are likely to drive older cars that don't feature the same high-tech safety features as newer vehicles, while low-income neighborhoods often have high-speed roads and freeways built through them. 
The NYT report notes that lower-income Americans typically still drive to work, while many white-collar workers are able to work from home.

What can be done about it?

While it seems like a tough issue to solve, it's not without precedent; experts assert that it isn't
rocket science
to solve these issues because they've been solved before elsewhere.
Some solutions include better enforcement of existing speed limits, seatbelt mandates and drunk driving restrictions. Another, more long-term solution would be to redesign roadways to be safer in poor neighborhoods, as well as promoting public transit.
Some of it should fall on
as well, like more safety and
features such as automatic emergency braking or pedestrian detection.
The Transportation Department is funding
infrastructure improvements
around the nation to reduce traffic fatalities, like elevated pedestrian crossings and better sidewalks and lighting near mass transit stations.
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