A new study by researchers at Boston University and Harvard University, reported on by Streetsblog, found that Black and Hispanic Americans experience “systematically” higher fatality rates per 100 million miles traveled on US roads. Drawing on data provided by the 2017 National Household Travel Survey and the U.S. Fatality Analysis Reporting System, the study looked at miles traveled in various modes of transportation, including pedestrians, bicycle users, and light-duty vehicle occupants.
The disparities ultimately revealed by the study included findings that not only were fatality rates higher for Black and Hispanic Americans, but they were higher for “vulnerable” modes of transportation, that is cycling and walking. “The fatality rate per mile traveled for non-Hispanic Black Americans was 4.5 times higher while cycling; 2.2 times higher while walking; and 1.8 times higher while an occupant was in a light-duty vehicle than for White Americans,” the authors found, noting that the results were comparable for Hispanic American pedestrians and cyclists.
The study also looked at the differences between fatality rates during the daytime and at night. It found that “race/ethnicity disparities appear to be exacerbated for walking” during periods of darkness, with non-Hispanic Black American pedestrians experiencing an estimated fatality rate of 3.4 times that of white Americans. It also found lower fatality rates for pedestrians and light-duty vehicle occupants in urban settings, concluding that one possible reason for this is the lower speeds that vehicles generally travel in urban environments..
What might account for the racial disparities in fatality rates for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers? The authors point to a number of possible explanations in the study’s discussion section, such as “systemic underinvestment in pedestrian and cycling infrastructure in communities of color” and racial disparities in emergency response and medical care. They stress, however, that the study is a descriptive analysis rather than a causal one, and ultimately suggest that the findings call for further analysis.
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