Traffic Deaths by Class and Race

Source: National Safety Council

You may have heard that traffic deaths are increasing. That is disturbing because since the early 1970s the trend has been down. That’s when cars became safer with seatbelt laws and crackdowns on drunk driving. Then came airbags and advanced technology to prevent accidents.

Unfortunately, the death rate began to rise around 2015 when the rate of smartphone ownership approached two-thirds, and speeding became less of an enforcement priority. What’s worse, vehicle crashes have really surged since the spring of 2020 when COVID took hold. By the beginning of 2022, the death rate had increased about 20 percent from before the pandemic, the fastest increase since the 1940s.


The most logical explanation is mental health. Due to COVID’s isolation and disruption, alcohol and drug abuse have increased. There has also been a reported surge in reckless driving and impulsive behavior. The pandemic’s frustrations have apparently carried over into driving.

But the most disturbing component of this trend is not every group has been equally impacted.  Data show people with lower incomes, Blacks and Latinos are more likely to die in crashes.

Data understates all death rates because race is not recorded in all crashes.
| Source: National Safety Council

Actually, this shouldn’t surprise anyone, because vehicle fatalities have long been unequal. Poorer people are more likely to drive older cars, which lack safety features. High-speed highways are more likely to be built through low-income neighborhoods. During the pandemic, fewer minorities and poor have been able to work from home, and disproportionally more on the lower-income side have driving jobs.

Fortunately, there are steps we can take to make driving safer. These include stricter enforcement of speed limits, seatbelt requirements, stronger drunken-driving laws better roads, more public transit, and further adoption of auto safety features like automated braking.

And there is some good news — vehicle deaths declined modestly this spring. Let’s all hope this trend continues.

Taken from The New York Times “The Morning” news summary for August 23, 2022 by David Leonhardt: “A Surge in Vehicle Crashes is Disproportionately Harming Lower-Income Families and Black Americans.” The tables came from that article.

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