GHSA Studying Racial Traffic Crash Fatality Disparities

Traffic crash fatalities disproportionately affect Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), according to a new report by the Governors Highway Safety Association.

[Above photo via Wikimedia Commons]

The group’s study, entitled “An Analysis of Traffic Fatalities by Race and Ethnicity,” analyzed data for the five-year period from 2015-2019 and is the first national analysis of the topic racial equity in traffic safety in more than a decade.

The GHSA analysis reports that:

  • Compared with all other racial groups, American Indian/Alaskan Native persons had a substantially higher per-capita rate of total traffic fatalities. White, Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander, Hispanic and Asian persons had lower than average rates.
  • American Indian/Alaskan Native persons had the highest per-capita rate of total traffic deaths, speeding-related fatalities, and pedestrian and bicyclist deaths.
  • Black persons had the second highest rate of total traffic deaths, pedestrian traffic deaths and bicyclist traffic deaths.
  • Traffic fatality rates among white persons exceed those of BIPOC in motorcycle driver and passenger deaths.

“Our nation’s historic inequalities have contributed to an unacceptable imbalance in traffic safety,” said Jonathan Adkins, GHSA’s executive director, in a statement.

GHSA’s Jonathan Adkins

“GHSA is focused on promoting racial justice and finding solutions that advance just results in the country’s behavioral highway safety programs,” he added. “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 group’s report also identifies actions state highway safety offices or SHSOs and communities can take to advance just and equitable outcomes in traffic safety. SHSOs are responsible for addressing speeding, impaired driving and other behavioral safety issues that contribute to traffic crashes, while working with their engineering counterparts to address the role of infrastructure in crashes

Some of those suggestions include:

  • Prioritize planning and investment in infrastructure safety countermeasures in underserved/lower socioeconomic communities and neighborhoods that have suffered from years of bias and disinvestment.
  • Treat traffic crash involvement as a health disparity issue and consider how public health approaches to other issues – including mental health and poverty – can help improve crash prevention measures.
  • Ensure diverse representation in state/city transportation leadership positions and on traffic safety groups tasked with developing and implementing state and municipal plans.
  • Develop new research-based interventions that prevent traffic crashes before they occur and/or before engaging in enforcement activities.
  • Tailor and develop with BIPOC input into safety education campaigns and outreach efforts that address the needs and culture of diverse communities.
  • Extensively engage with local BIPOC leadership to implement equitable traffic enforcement programs in their community.
  • Assess how current traffic enforcement approaches can exacerbate racial/socioeconomic issues and work with stakeholders to identify and implement solutions.

This initiative is part of a broader GHSA focus on equity and builds on the association’s September 2020 news release that outlined steps GHSA, the SHSOs and their partners can take to promote equitable traffic enforcement and more broadly address highway safety needs.

Photo by IIHS

GHSA is also conducting a separate assessment of state approaches to racial equity to identify and promote best practices and solutions.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials is also taking a new and comprehensive approach to improving diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts among the state department of transportation community.

For example, in November 2020, AASHTO’s board of directors unanimously passed a resolution pledging to address issues related to race, equity, diversity, and inclusion. The organization also agreed to address those efforts within the transportation industry with “humility, introspection, and respect, being mindful of the importance of listening to and learning” from those most adversely affected by past decisions.

Meanwhile two state DOT CEOs highlighted the ways state DOTs are incorporating equity into their infrastructure programs during hearing held by the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee of the Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works on May 2020.

Toks Omishakin, at left, with William Panos at right.

Toks Omishakin – director of the California Department of Transportation – and William Panos, director of the North Dakota Department of Transportation, shared their perspectives on how to improve transportation equity for disadvantaged communities, “no matter their race, socioeconomic status, identity, where they live, or how they travel.”

Where Caltrans is concerned, such steps include:

  • Expanding public transportation to meet the needs of a diverse and aging population, including quality transit service in rural communities.
  • Developing and investing in passenger rail and transit projects that support inclusive job development opportunities in the trades.
  • Growing the “clean transportation sector” to address the disproportionate effects of pollution on minority and under-served communities.
  • Investing in safer multimodal and active transportation facilities on community highways, trails, and streets.
  • Enhancing maintenance and operational investments on all highways and prioritize under-served and rural communities, including tribal governments.
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