Are High Housing Prices a Factor in Unequal Car Crash Deaths?

By Rachel Puryear

The New York Times recently published a story indicating that more Americans are dying in car crashes than they were before the pandemic, and that car crash deaths have also crept upward for the past several years.

That follows and reverses a decades-long trend from the 1970s through about 2015, whereby car crash deaths had been gradually declining for a long time – thanks to safer automobiles and laws better regulating them, as well as safer driving laws (like requiring seat belts).

What has caused a good trend to start regressing, and then get even worse since society has reopened following the pandemic? Furthermore, why are black Americans and lower-income Americans affected disproportionately by increasing crashes?

Police yellow line, blurred lights and traffic accident in background.

In short, the above-referenced New York Times article indicated that no one is sure why these trends are happening. However, it suggested a few factors – including increasing cell phone distractions for the past couple decades, Americans driving larger vehicles; plus reduced social skills and cohesion following the pandemic, and lower-income people driving more for certain gig jobs (like Lyft and Uber).

Those factors are sensible, and probably all contribute. I think there are likely multiple factors at play in the problem.

The article concluded that stricter enforcement of driving laws is a solution, and pointed to more lax enforcement in the USA compared with other countries that have stricter enforcement, and fewer crashes.

However, I thought of another factor that the article didn’t get into – higher housing prices, leading to longer commutes.

Here’s why:

It’s no secret that housing prices are rising across the USA, and that homes can be especially expensive to rent or buy near major job centers.

People who commute to work naturally like to live as close to their jobs as they can afford, in order to minimize their journey to the workplace.

Accordingly, homes closer to job centers are expensive, because the convenient location is desirable. This is a market reality.

With home prices increasing throughout much of the country, people who can’t afford to keep up with market rents are moving further and further away from job centers.

The fiscal effects of these patterns ripple out to longer and longer distances from job centers, as people escaping more expensive metros displace those in a less expensive one further outward, and so forth.

The result is that for many people, especially those with lower incomes and smaller housing budgets, they are living farther away from their jobs. If they commute, then their commutes are longer.

As lower-income people tend to be less likely than higher earners to work remotely, this compounds the longer commutes that many low-income earners already deal with.

Furthermore, due to long-entrenched patterns of housing discrimination against African-Americans – which still exists in more subtle forms today, even if there are more legal protections now – black Americans are more likely than their white counterparts to live further from major job centers.

Therefore, there’s very good reason to believe that lower-income Americans, as well as black Americans, must commute longer distances to work than their better-off and white counterparts – that is, if they cannot work remotely.

Commuting longer distances means more accidents. Longer workdays caused by longer commutes also means more tired and distracted drivers, which further exacerbates the problem.

More accidents means more injuries, as well as more car crash deaths.

For people who commute ridiculously long distances to work daily, their commutes could literally and figuratively be killing them.

So, indirectly, high housing prices could be contributing to increasing car crashes and resulting deaths – by way of longer commutes, and greater driver fatigue.

This also fits with the pattern of more crashes particularly affecting lower-income Americans, as well as black Americans.

This is, of course, another reason why remote work as a default where feasible – rather than as a last resort, or even subject to the whims of management – is a matter of diversity, equity, and inclusion; as well as also saving lives and improving health.

However, that fact won’t change the reality. So, in any event, the best we can all do is to drive defensively, and follow the rules of the road as best we can.

That won’t prevent every crash, because we cannot control what others do – but it can certainly cut down on the likelihood of a crash.

Furthermore, the best defense against fatigue-related accidents is to get enough rest, and to stop driving (ideally have someone else drive) if you’re too tired. It may not be convenient to stop, but a dangerous car accident is much worse.

That said, if you need to perk up a little for the road, try delicious Viter Energy mints to give you a little caffeine. They come in several flavors – including chocolate mint :P, and are sugar free and vegan.

Stack of mint chocolate brownies.

Safe travels out there!

Thank you, dear readers, for reading, following, and sharing. Here’s to driving more safely out there.

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