In 2020, traffic deaths increased to record highs, despite fewer people driving. Those traffic deaths, however, did not stay equal across ethnic and class groups. In fact, minority groups across the U.S. may have seen a higher level of traffic fatalities throughout the pandemic. Our auto accident lawyers at Jacoby & Meyers, LLP have compiled some of these numbers below.
Traffic Deaths During COVID: By the Numbers
As the roads emptied in March 2020, traffic fatalities increased an estimated 14 percent for each vehicle mile driven. More than 380,000 people died in traffic accidents throughout 2020: the highest projected number since 2007. The estimated number of traffic deaths per vehicle mile driven did decrease slightly in 2021, according to the NHTSA, which notes that traffic fatalities decreased from 1.34 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles driven to 1.33 fatalities.
A look at the trends of those deaths shows increases across the board.
- Nighttime fatalities increased by 11 percent.
- Weekend fatalities increased by 9 percent.
- Speeding-related fatalities increased by 11 percent.
- Fatalities in the 16 to 24 age range increased by 15 percent. In the 25 to 34 age range, fatalities increased by 18 percent.
- Fatalities in males increased by 9 percent.
- Police-reported alcohol-involved crashes that resulted in fatalities increased by 9 percent.
Minorities, however, may have seen the greatest increase in fatalities, according to the NHTSA report: traffic fatalities among Blacks increased by around 23 percent. Furthermore, low-income areas may see higher overall traffic fatality risk, especially among pedestrians and cyclists.
Most years, minorities, including Native Americans, see higher rates of traffic deaths. This increase in traffic deaths may have resulted from greater risk-taking behavior, but the increase in deaths for minorities may represent something else: a higher degree of danger for minorities and low-income populations.
Why Do Minorities and Low-Income Populations See Greater Traffic Accident Risks?
Traffic fatalities and accidents rose almost universally during the first year of the pandemic, despite fewer people out on the road. On the other hand, low-income and primarily minority communities may have seen a higher increase than other populations.
In some cases, community locations may take some of the blame for the increase in traffic fatalities in low-income communities. Affluent communities are often located away from busy roadways.
On the other hand, low-income communities have a higher likelihood of a location along busy highways, which may increase the odds of devastating accidents. On highways, many people naturally travel at a higher rate of speed than they would in a private community, which may make them less aware of potential hazards around them.
Many low-income communities lack the infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists to get around safely. Affluent communities, where walking and biking represent luxuries rather than necessities, may have a stronger overall infrastructure that makes those activities as safe as possible.
Bike Lanes, Trails, and Sidewalks
Many low-income communities lack convenient means of travel by bicycle or on foot. In affluent communities, walking and biking trails may abound. Those communities may have the resources needed to put in bike lanes. They may have extensive green spaces where bike riders and pedestrians can get around without crossing substantial roadways. Those spaces dramatically lower the risk of vehicle-related pedestrian and cyclist accidents since pedestrians and cyclists do not have to compete for space on the roads or maintain constant awareness of their surroundings to avoid a collision.
In low-income communities, on the other hand, those spaces may simply not exist. Cyclists may end up making do with a small strip of roadway or even biking directly on the road, increasing driver frustration and making it more difficult for cyclists to get around.
Clearly-labeled crosswalks, visible to both drivers and pedestrians, can make it much easier for pedestrians to safely travel through most areas. Unfortunately, many low-income communities do not have those adequately-labeled crosswalks, so drivers may not know that pedestrians need to move into those areas. In affluent communities, pedestrians may count on clear signs and crossing guides.
Low-income communities, however, may lack those options altogether. Furthermore, when those items get broken, replacing them may take much longer. As a result, people may be more likely to cross at any point on the road, making it more difficult for them to avoid potential collisions.
Public Transportation Access
Many low-income communities also lack much-needed access to public transportation. Even though affluent community members may have a lower overall need for public transportation, in those communities, those public transportation options may seem much more convenient and accessible.
In low-income communities, it may take a long walk to get to public transportation, and those transportation options may prove less reliable. As a result, members of those communities may spend more time on the road.
Having signs to warn drivers about pedestrian traffic can also go a long way toward decreasing pedestrian accidents and fatalities. Drivers who know they may encounter pedestrians as they move through an area may prove more likely to slow down. Warning signs can also indicate popular pedestrian crossings and provide a heads-up about the likelihood of pedestrians in those locations.
Unfortunately, many drivers may not recognize the presence of pedestrians without those clear signs, especially on busy highways. Low-income neighborhoods may have fewer warning signs and indications, which may raise the odds that their pedestrians and cyclists will suffer a devastating accident.
A study by the University of Nevada reveals that, in some cases, racism may contribute heavily to traffic fatalities across racial groups. Drivers are generally less likely to stop for Black pedestrians than white, even under similar circumstances. Unfortunately, those differences can lead to substantially higher risk for minorities on the road, including a higher risk of traffic fatalities.
With rising violent crimes across the United States, it may grow more common to see drivers who simply ignore the presence of pedestrians altogether, especially if they perceive those pedestrians as unequal or lesser in any way.
Increased Need to Walk
Low-income communities may, in general, have more people who need to rely on self-powered transportation, including walking and cycling. Many members of those communities cannot afford vehicles at all. Other members of the community may share a single vehicle among multiple family members, which may decrease the vehicle’s availability for all family members.
As a result, those individuals may prove more likely to walk in general, which means they may face higher levels of risk on the road. Pedestrians and cyclists generally suffer a higher risk of fatality since they have no protection from the large passenger vehicles that may strike them.
President Joe Biden’s infrastructure law aims to help build essential road infrastructure that can benefit pedestrians in those essential low-income communities. The infrastructure bill will help aid communities across the United States by putting in those vital warning signs, adding crosswalks, and increasing the available resources in those communities so that pedestrians and cyclists can move through the area more easily.
The bill also will make many bridges and roads safer, which may further decrease traffic fatalities.
While affluent communities often have the resources to take on those projects themselves, low-income communities may struggle to keep up with essential repairs. In many cases, roads, bridges, and sidewalks may fall into disrepair, making it more difficult for pedestrians and cyclists to move safely. Furthermore, those areas may have thinner roads and fewer bicycle lanes. In some cases, they may not have sidewalks at all. The infrastructure law will help address many of those challenges.
Barriers to Legal Support in Low-Income Communities
In addition to seeing more overall traffic fatalities and higher accident risks, members of low-income communities may find it more difficult to get the legal services they need after an accident.
An injury claim may help provide much-needed funds that may help a victim recover, but if the victim cannot access vital legal support, he might end up accepting the first low offer provided by an insurance company.
Sometimes, insurance companies may even deliberately issue lower offers to minorities or low-income victims, who they know may not have the resources needed to fight them.
Fortunately, many law firms will offer services and options to help members of low-income communities learn more about their rights. By working with a lawyer, the victim of a devastating traffic accident can better understand what compensation to expect.
Furthermore, an attorney can help that victim fight for compensation, increasing the odds that the insurance company will take him seriously and raising the funds he may have on hand following his accident.
1. Free Consultations
Following an accident caused by another party’s negligence, you have the right to pursue a free consultation with a traffic accident lawyer near you. Whether you suffered injuries as a pedestrian, cyclist, or vehicle passenger, a lawyer can help provide you with essential information that can guide you through the claim process.
During your free consultation, you can learn more about the compensation you should expect as part of an injury claim after your accident. A lawyer can help walk you through the areas where you can expect compensation and how you should realistically calculate the compensation you are entitled to.
You can also have the lawyer review any early settlement offer you may have received from the insurance company and give you a better idea of whether that compensation accurately reflects the losses you sustained because of the accident.
A free consultation can also help traffic accident victims better understand the process of seeking full compensation for their injuries and give insight into whether they have chosen the right attorney for their needs.
2. Virtual Visits
In many cases, low-income communities may struggle to get in to see a lawyer because of location. Often, law firms keep their offices in more affluent areas, which may feel inaccessible to people who may not have cars or who may struggle to use public transportation due to their injuries. Getting a long way across town can sap their energy, not to mention their financial resources.
A virtual visit with a lawyer can help answer any questions that the injured party might have from the comfort of home. Virtual visits can also make large legal firms more accessible to communities that might not otherwise have access to those resources.
3. Contingency Fees
Many law firms will take claims on a contingent fee basis. Instead of charging upfront for legal services or charging as they go, lawyers will take a percentage of the funds they can win for the injured victim. They will collect those funds after the claim concludes and the insurance company pays out the settlement for the accident. As a result, injury victims in low-income communities can afford the legal services they need since they will not have to come up with legal fees upfront. Those supports may mean that members of those communities can access the full resources they need to claim compensation following a devastating accident.
Contact a Lawyer for Help After Your Traffic Accident
With traffic accidents on the rise, more people may need to know about their options, including how to best ensure that they can get the funds they need to recover from their injuries. For many people in low-income communities, traffic accidents can prove utterly devastating.
A personal injury lawyer can help walk you through the claim process and give you a better idea of how much compensation you really deserve for those injuries, which may make it easier for you to proceed with your claim.
Did you suffer injuries in a traffic accident during COVID? Contact a car accident lawyer today to learn more about the compensation you should expect and how you can best pursue it.