Traffic Crash Fatalities Disproportionately Affect Black, Indigenous and People of Color

New data on traffic deaths by race and ethnicity highlights the urgent need for more equitable implementation of highway safety programs

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), today released a report that analyzed data over the five-year period 2015 to 2019. It found that traffic fatalities disproportionately affected Black, Indigenous, and People of Colorof Color (BIPOC). An Analysis of Traffic Fatalities By Race and Ethnicity is the first national analysis on this topic in over a decade. It identifies actions State Highway Safety Offices, communities, and their partners can take in order to improve traffic safety for all road users.

The GHSA data analysis showed that:

  • Comparable to all other races, the per-capita traffic fatality rate for American Indian/Alaska Native people was significantly higher than that of any other race. Hispanic, Asian, Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander and White persons had lower rates than the average.
  • American Indian/Alaska Native people had the highest per capita rate of traffic deaths, speeding-related deaths, and pedestrian and cyclist deaths.
  • Black people had the second highest rates of traffic deaths, pedestrian deaths, and bicyclist deaths.
  • White people are more likely to be killed in traffic accidents than those who die as passengers or motorcycle drivers.

Jonathan Adkins, GHSA Executive Director, stated that “our nation’s historical inequalities have contributed a unacceptable imbalance in traffic safety.” “GHSA’s mission is to promote racial justice, and find solutions that achieve just results in our country’s behavioral highway safety program. This problem did not happen overnight and it will not be solved overnight. However, we must take meaningful steps forward each day to ensure that our roads are safe for all citizens and communities.

SHSOs are responsible to address speeding, impaired driving, and other safety issues that contributes to traffic accidents. They also work with engineering counterparts to address infrastructure-related crashes. This report provides recommendations for actions that states and communities could take to improve the safety of minorities and reduce injuries, deaths, and crashes caused by transportation disparities.

  • Prioritize infrastructure safety countermeasures for underserved/lower socioeconomic neighborhoods and those who have been subject to years of bias or disinvestment.
  • Traffic crash involvement should be treated as a health issue. You should consider how public health approaches can be used to prevent traffic crashes.
  • Assure diversity in the state/city transportation leadership positions as well as traffic safety groups charged with developing and implementing municipal and state plans.
  • Research-based, new interventions to prevent traffic accidents before they happen and/or enforcement actions are necessary.
  • BIPOC’s input safety education campaigns, outreach efforts and tailoring programs allow you to develop and tailor your skills and knowledge for diverse communities.
  • Engage with the local BIPOC leadership to discuss how an equitable traffic enforcement program could be implemented in your community.
  • Examine how traffic enforcement methods can worsen racial/socioeconomic problems and work with stakeholders in order to find and implement solutions.

This initiative is part a broader GHSA emphasis on equity. It builds on the September 2020 news release by the association that outlined steps GHSA and SHSOs can take to promote equitable traffic enforcement, and address more general highway safety issues. GHSA is also conducting a separate assessment on state approaches to racial equality to find and promote the best practices and solutions.

GHSA’s 2021 Annual Meeting will see national and state leaders meet in Denver in the fall to discuss ways the highway safety community can achieve more equity in traffic enforcement. This conference is the first national traffic safety conference in person since the outbreak. GHSA will host a webinar on July 7th about how to foster trust and positive engagement between law enforcement agencies and BIPOC communities.

Richard Retting, former Sam Schwartz Consulting Director of Safety & Research, performed the literature review and data analysis. Sam Schwartz’s Moriah R. Richardson, Transportation Engineer, Hugh Smith, Senior Associate and Director of Community Outreach, and Shameka Turner (Outreach Liaison) provided review and input. Sam Schwartz’s Value Inclusion, Belonging, and Equity Council (VIBE Council) includes Turner, Smith, and Richardson. This council is charged with integrating the principles and equity in all aspects of the firm’s work.

Updated 01/24/22