NYT: "Race, Class and Traffic Deaths"—But Nothing About The Racial Reckoning
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From the New York Times:

Race, Class and Traffic Deaths

A surge in vehicle crashes is disproportionately harming lower-income families and Black Americans.

By David Leonhardt
Aug. 23, 2022, 6:25 a.m. ET

Vehicle crashes seem as if they might be an equal-opportunity public health problem. Americans in every demographic group drive, after all. If anything, poor families tend to rely more on public transportation and less on car travel.

Yet vehicle deaths turn out to be highly unequal. Lower-income people are much more likely to die in crashes, academic research shows. The racial gaps are also huge — even bigger on a percentage basis than the racial gaps on cancer, according to the C.D.C.

The unequal toll from crashes is particularly notable now because the U.S. is experiencing an alarming increase in vehicle deaths. Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, recently called it “a national crisis of fatalities and serious injuries on our roadways.” And the toll is falling most heavily on lower-income Americans and Black Americans....

The reasons for the increase remain somewhat mysterious, experts say. …

But the situation changed around 2015, with the death rate mostly rising over the next several years.

Black traffic deaths went up in 2015-2016 for same reason black homicide deaths went up: the Ferguson Effect.

Heck, traffic deaths on the main drag through Ferguson, MO itself are way up since 2014.

One reason seems to be distracted driving. By 2015, two-thirds of U.S. adults owned a smartphone, up from almost none in 2006.

But that doesn’t explain the racial divergence after Ferguson, much less the huge change in June 2020, when black road deaths were 55% higher than in June 2019.

The U.S. has also been less aggressive about cracking down on speeding than Britain and some other parts of Europe, and vehicles here tend to be larger.

The U.S. has been especially less aggressive about cracking down on speeding since George Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020. For example, traffic stops in California were down 26.5% in 2020. From the New York Times in April:

Cities Try to Turn the Tide on Police Traffic Stops

Chiefs, prosecutors and lawmakers are rethinking the value, and the harm, of minor traffic stops like the one that ended in a man’s death in Grand Rapids.

By David D. Kirkpatrick, Steve Eder and Kim Barker
April 15, 2022

Los Angeles is overhauling its traffic policing, aiming to stop pulling over cars — frequently with Black drivers — for trivial infractions like broken taillights or expired tags as a pretext to search for drugs or guns.

We need to stop white rednecks in the sticks from buying long guns at sporting goods stores, but we can’t make any effort to stop black criminals in the cities from carrying illegal handguns in their waistbands.

“We want to fish with a hook, not a net,” Police Chief Michel Moore said.

Los Angeles last month became the biggest city to restrict the policing of minor violations. In Philadelphia, a ban on such stops has just taken effect. Pittsburgh; Seattle; Berkeley, Calif.; Lansing, Mich.; Brooklyn Center, Minn.; and the State of Virginia have all taken similar steps. Elsewhere across the country, a half-dozen prosecutors have said they will not bring charges based on evidence collected at these stops.

Back to the New York Times today:

“The engorgement of the American vehicle,” as Gregory Shill of the University of Iowa has called it, can kill pedestrians and people in smaller vehicles. These patterns help explain why death rates have fallen substantially more in other countries than in the U.S. during recent decades.

But it doesn’t explain the sharp changes that correlate very closely with sharp changes in the homicide rate.

What you could argue, as I have, is that stimulus checks and rent moratoriums enabled the bottom of the black barrel to obtain cars in 2020, reducing the quality of the average black driver.

As alarming as these trends were, the biggest increases have taken place more recently — since the pandemic. In the spring of 2020, as Covid was transforming daily life, vehicle crashes surged. By the start of this year, the death rate had jumped about 20 percent from prepandemic levels. It has been the sharpest increase since the 1940s.

At first, researchers thought that emptier roads might be the main answer. Open roads can encourage speeding, and speeding can be fatal.

Yes, that did happen. As miles driven dropped sharply in April 2020, car crash deaths per mile shot upwards. The roads emptied and the cops shied away from stopping speeders for fear of getting coronavirus from them handing them their driver’s license.

But even as traffic returned to near-normal levels last year, traffic deaths remained high. That combination weakens the empty-road theory, as Robert Schneider, an urban-planning expert at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said.

The most plausible remaining theories tend to involve the mental health problems caused by Covid’s isolation and disruption. Alcohol and drug abuse have increased. Impulsive behavior, like running red lights and failing to wear seatbelts, also seems to have risen (as my colleague Simon Romero has reported). Many Americans have felt frustrated or unhappy, and it seems to have affected their driving.

In general, there has been a sizable decline in standards since COVID began. When people are less social they are more antisocial.

“They’re a little bit less regulated — they might not be considering consequences,” Kira Mauseth, a clinical psychologist at Seattle University, has said. Frank Farley, a psychologist at Temple University, put it this way to The Los Angeles Times: “You’ve been cooped up, locked down and have restrictions you chafe at.”

Ken Kolosh, who oversees data analysis at the National Safety Council, a nonprofit group, told me that researchers would need years to tease out all the causes. Confusingly, vehicle deaths did not surge in most other countries during the pandemic, suggesting that stress was a particularly American problem. “The world really felt upside down,” Kolosh said.

It’s like how murders didn’t surge in other countries during 2020, just in the U.S. It’s almost as if the main thing driving up the murder and car death rates in the U.S. was less COVID than the Racial Reckoning.

Still, the surge in crashes has become one more way that the pandemic has hurt lower-income Americans and people of color the most — as did the early wave of Covid deaths and the consequences of closed schools.

There are all these car crashes wandering around looking to hurt people of color. It couldn’t be that people of color have been driving worse and getting themselves (and others) more often killed by their “little bit less regulated” driving.

As I mentioned above, vehicle fatalities have long been unequal. Poorer people are more likely to drive older cars, which can lack safety features. Low-income neighborhoods are also much more likely to have high-speed roads running through them. “We have systematically put these arterial roadways in areas where people had less political power to fight back,” Rebecca Sanders, the founder of Safe Streets Research & Consulting, said.

And/or people who could afford lower rents moved to areas with busier streets. A lot of the scariest roads in America are in exurbs in places like Florida where nobody except farmers lived when the roads were built.

The pandemic probably exacerbated the gaps because many professionals have begun working from home, while many blue-collar Americans kept driving, biking or walking to work. Some lower-income workers also drive as part of their jobs.

Even if the full explanation of the surge in crashes is murky, many experts believe that the most promising solutions remain clear.

“Making streets safer doesn’t require designing new solutions in laboratories,” John Rennie Short, of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, has written. Jeffrey Michael, another expert, told The Washington Post, “This is an issue for which answers are known.”

Those answers include: stricter enforcement of speed limits, seatbelt mandates and drunken-driving laws

Uh…“stricter enforcement” means pulling over bad drivers more, and bad drivers tend to be sacred people of color, who sometimes violently object to the impertinence of cops criticizing their driving.

; better designed roads, especially in poorer neighborhoods; more public transit; and further spread of safety features like automated braking.

Continuing to leave behind the disruptions of Covid — and the loneliness and stress they have caused — seems likely to help, too.

But let’s not even think about the disruptions of George Floyd.

[Comment at Unz.com]


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