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Despite a historic decrease in traffic throughout Los Angeles and much of California throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, this didn’t result in a decrease in traffic violence. For the last year, people continued to be injured and killed in collisions on city streets at a high rate. In fact, the number of people killed in traffic crashes in Los Angeles reportedly remained virtually unchanged in 2020.
Based on preliminary data reported by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation and reported by LAist, 238 people died in collisions last year. Compared to the 246 deaths in 2019, that’s a decrease of about 3%. However, that slight dip pales in comparison to how sharply car travel fell in greater L.A. in the early months of the pandemic. In mid-to-late Mar. 2020, daily vehicle traffic fell as much as 70%. Then Apr. saw traffic volumes decrease by 30% to 50% compared to the start of the year.
As written by LAist, the “discrepancy in how much we drove last year vs. how many people were killed in traffic crashes shows the immense challenge L.A. faces in reducing traffic violence and saving lives on its streets.” According to city data cited by the publication, nearly 250 people were killed in crashes each year on average from 2016 to 2020, up more than 30% from the previous five years. A surge in pedestrian deaths has driven much that increase.
Moreover, though the number of pedestrians killed by drivers fell around 12% overall, it actually increased in some neighborhoods. LADOT reported that collisions in which someone was killed or severely injured were down notably from 2019 in the Valley, Central and West bureaus, but jumped 23% in the South Bureau. When it comes to fatal crashes specifically, fewer people died in West L.A. and the San Fernando Valley compared to the previous year. However, more people were killed in Central and South L.A., where traffic fatalities there jumped 17% and 27%, respectively.
Similarly, pedestrian deaths were down in three LAPD jurisdictions — notably 50% in the West Bureau. But the number of people killed by drivers while walking in South L.A. rose nearly 15% from the year before.
LAist perfectly explained it: “The disproportionate death toll in South L.A. is in line with what we know about the racial inequities in crash victims. Neighborhoods there are predominantly Latino and Black, and historic underfunding in those communities has led to neglected, dangerous roads — and more people of color are dying as a result.”
In 2015, the city of Los Angeles adopted the Vision Zero program, pledging to eliminate traffic deaths by 2025. As aforementioned, traffic violence in the city has only worsened since then. While car occupant deaths have stayed virtually flat, the number of people killed by drivers while walking has surged in recent years. The program initially sought to reduce traffic deaths 20% by 2017. Instead, the city experienced 67 more deaths than in 2015.
A recent study from UCLA showed that people of color, especially Black people, are disproportionately hurt and killed in L.A. crashes. “Some of the key takeaways are that black people are 14% of victims overall, even though they’re only 9% of the city’s population,” Madeleine Brozen, deputy director for the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, reportedly said.
She added that Black victims are also overrepresented in traffic deaths specifically, making up 16% of fatalities from 2013 to 2017 — nearly double their population share. In fact, one in every four people killed in a crash over those five years was either a Black or Latino pedestrian, the data showed.
The disproportionate death toll in South L.A. is “a direct result of generational underinvestment and harmful transportation planning decisions,” LADOT’s Colin Sweeney told LAist. “Our safety investments aim to address these disparities.”
Moreover, LADOT staff reportedly analyzed crash data from 2015 to 2019 and identified eight new “priority corridors,” which city roadways where people are killed and severely injured in crashes at high rates. The corridors see a minimum average 15 people killed or severely injured per mile (KSI/mile), and four of these are in South L.A. These are:
Also, preliminary data compiled by LADOT cited by LAist revealed other trends seen throughout the city in 2020, which included:
The number of motorcyclists killed in crashes jumped about 45%.