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Racial disparities in road deaths larger than expected: study

Samara Banks, the 27-year-old niece of Philadelphia resident Latanya Byrd, and three of Banks’ sons were hit and killed by a speeding ticket in 2013. They were crossing Roosevelt Boulevard, a 12-lane road that runs through some of the cities the most diverse and the most modest neighborhoods.

“It was so devastating,” Byrd told ABC News. “We lost two generations all at once. I mean, just an instant snap.”

As the local population has swelled, Byrd said outdated transport infrastructure – grass paths instead of sidewalks, dangerously short pedestrian signal cycles, overcrowded bus stops, to name a few — may partly explain why this road is one of the deadliest in America.

Byrd’s story illustrates a broader trend of racial disparity and inequality in traffic fatalities, as reported by the Governors Highway Safety Association and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last year.

And a new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine last week finds that these disparities could be even larger than originally estimated, especially for “vulnerable” modes of travel like walking and biking.

The previous estimates were obtained by calculating the national number of road deaths by race and ethnicity in all modes of travel, sometimes adjusting the population of each racial and ethnic group.

“But that’s assuming that everyone of all races and ethnicities bikes, walks, or drives the same number of miles, and we find that’s not true,” said Matthew Raifman, a PhD student at Boston University. School of Public Health and co-author of the new study. , told ABC News.

Using 2017 national data on road accidents and household travel, Raifman and co-author Ernani Choma, a researcher at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, analyzed the travel activity of different racial and ethnic groups as a function of additional variables of travel mode, distance. travelled, time of day and urbanity.

They found that looking only at car drivers or passengers, the road fatality rate per mile driven was 1.8 times higher for black Americans than for white Americans.

This rate increases to 2.2 times and 4.5 times when considering only pedestrians and cyclists, respectively.

Rates for Hispanic Americans follow similar, though less severe, patterns. Asian Americans had the lowest death rates across all modes of transportation.

Overnight, racial and ethnic disparities in road deaths were exacerbated.

Byrd partially attributed these disparities to systemic underinvestment in protected infrastructure for walking and cycling in working-class neighborhoods, which are disproportionately from communities of color — while most road repairs take place elsewhere.

“It may be the same road that gets repaired every year, and it’s nowhere near as bad as the roads in the poorer parts of town,” she said.

The fact that black and Hispanic Americans are dying at higher rates due to traffic accidents but cycling and walking fewer total miles is a problem in itself, Choma told ABC News.

“This could indicate that, for example, black Americans or Hispanic Americans are less able to ride bicycles, they don’t have access to transportation that way,” he said. “Maybe there are fewer bike lanes. Maybe they don’t even cycle because they don’t feel safe.”

A cyclist waits at a traffic light surrounded by cars, buses and pedestrians during the morning commute on Market Street in San Francisco, June 10, 2015.

San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images, FILE

Raifman said their analysis could also point to racial inequality in the chain of medical services — emergency response times, quality of care, access to health insurance and pre-existing conditions.

“Road fatalities don’t necessarily occur at the point of collision,” he said. “Some people die in a hospital or an emergency room or on the way to an emergency room.”

Choma added that without safe access to bike lanes and crosswalks, Black and Hispanic Americans also lose out on the health benefits that come from physical activity, as well as environmental benefits like reduced air pollution.

Byrd co-founded the advocacy group Families for Safe Streets in Greater Philadelphia to address the “epidemic” of traffic violence. She successfully lobbied for speed cameras, which were placed at eight intersections on Roosevelt Boulevard in June 2020.

The US Department of Transportation created the Safe Streets and Roads for All program in May to allocate federal transportation funds to cities and local governments. President Joe Biden also recently signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, providing $550 billion in spending for roads, bridges, public transit and more.

With more comprehensive data on specific streets, levels of walking and cycling activity, as well as other social costs of traffic crashes, such as injuries and property damage, Raifman and Choma said they hoped that future research would inspire local policymakers to address the root of racial disparities in traffic fatalities.

“We have these two big challenges. We have structural racism, and we have road deaths, and they’re linked. They’re linked,” Raifman said. “Instead of just investing in reducing road deaths, why not do it in a way that also addresses the systemic and structural challenges of racism in our society?”

ABC News

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