Traffic Incidents Disproportionately Affect POCs

It seems there aren’t any aspects of modern life that lack racial disparities. Traffic incidents are no exception. From a Portland Bureau of Transportation news update:

The Portland Bureau of Transportation will reduce the speed limit from 35 mph to 30 mph on 122nd Avenue…

One of the most dangerous streets in Portland, 122nd Avenue had 12 traffic fatalities from 2016 to 2020, an average of more than two per year. From 2012 to 2016, five of the intersections with the highest crash rates in all of Portland were on 122nd Avenue. High crash corridors make up only 8% of the streets citywide, but they account for most of the traffic deaths from year to year.

Together, high crash streets and intersections make up the High Crash Network, where the city’s Vision Zero program focuses safety improvements. The program prioritizes safety investments in areas, such as the 122nd Avenue corridor, where there are higher concentrations of communities of color and people living on low-incomes. Black Portlanders and other people of color suffer disproportionately from traffic deaths and serious injuries.

The article goes on to say that pedestrians, especially at night, are disproportionately affected. It does not tell us whether the at-fault motorists are disproportionately POCs.

A large study of traffic stops revealed that black motorists are more likely to get pulled over, but fewer of them actually receive tickets. The linked article assumes that the underlying reason for the disparity is anti-black racism:

“So, black drivers were stopped disproportionately more than white drivers compared to the local population and were at least twice as likely to be searched, but they were slightly less likely to get a ticket,” Shoub says. “That correlates with the idea that black drivers were stopped on the pretext of having done something wrong, and when the officer doesn’t see in the car what he thought he might, he tells them to go on their way.”

For a separate paper entitled “Racial Disparities in Traffic Stop Outcomes,” Shoub and her co-authors gathered and analyzed traffic stop data from law enforcement agencies in 16 states, including Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Ohio and Vermont that pointed to similar disparities in the rate at which black drivers were stopped and searched compared to white drivers.

‘Driving while black’ is very much a thing; it’s everywhere and it’s not just a North Carolina or a Southern problem but across the United States.

Kelsey Shoub

What the article does NOT explore is the possibility that officers strive to avoid giving tickets to black motorists, who more commonly violate traffic laws, so that they’re not accused of racism when the racial breakdown is examined. In other words, a pro-black bias is just as likely to be at work here; once the motorist is pulled over, and the officer sees that he’s black, he’ll choose to not give a ticket. In the end, there are probably so many variables that it’s impossible to say for certain which dynamics are at play, and it might be a mix of dynamics, with some officers being anti-black and others being pro-black, while some are indifferent.

The article doesn’t tell us about the habits of black officers. Are they also more lenient with white motorists? Do they favor black motorists? It seems to me that these are valid questions.

Getting back to Portland, one gets the impression that the Portland Bureau of Transportation values the lives of non-whites more than whites; rarely, if ever, do we see (racial) concern for issues that disproportionately affect white people – such as suicide.

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