Preserve Black History One Car Ride at a Time

by Gwen Newell

As Carolinians observe Black History Month with virtual and socially-distanced celebrations and observances, the North Carolina Governor’s Highway Safety Program is highlighting the need to prioritize black lives behind the wheel.

“When black inventor Garret Morgan patented the first traffic signal in 1923, no one knew how many countless souls would be saved as a result of his vision,” said Mark Ezzell, Director of the N.C. Governor’s Highway Safety Program. “Preventing senseless death was the goal then, and today we can uphold the vision of preserving more lives by empowering drivers with information that can save lives for generations.”

During this month and in the months ahead, NCGHSP leadership will be engaging in virtual sessions with cultural influencers in and around North Carolina, presenting them with ideas to help improve the survival rates of black families on the roadways.

Those ideas will include ways to increase the education and empowerment of black and brown drivers and riders.

“NCDMV has a network of seven million registered drivers, and our commitment to engaging and informing each one remains firm,” said Commissioner Torre Jessup who leads the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles. “We are now more than ever dedicated to working with NCGHSP to promote safe-driving initiatives around the state; included but not limited to increasing representation in areas of safety outreach through social media, and educational collateral outreach,” said Commissioner Jessup.

“As North Carolina’s minority population increases, it is essential to monitor trends surrounding motor vehicle traffic fatalities by race and ethnicity,” says Tiffany Wright, spokesperson, AAA – The Auto Club Group in the Carolinas, whose mission is to advocate for better travel with a focus on safety. “While evaluating transportation data, it’s clear that members of the traveling public most at risk, need and deserve as many resources as possible to help slow and ultimately stop the needless loss of life on our roadways. We hope to support NCGHSP’s core mission by increasing minority traveler educational resources and continuing discussions surrounding possible legislative improvements that will reduce increased risk to African American travelers.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for Black Americans from birth through 14 years of age, and the second leading cause of death for the ages 15 through 24.

Primary safety issues within this focus group continue to be:

  • Unbelted travel
  • Impaired driving
  • Speeding

“While there’s myriad of health, social and cultural issues that put minorities: Black, Latino, Native American, Asian and others at increased danger; buckling up, traveling sober and going the speed limit can greatly reduce fatalities behind the wheel within our community,” said Lydia McIntyre, Executive Committee for Highway Safety member and Transportation Planning Engineer with the City of Greensboro and Vision Zero Greensboro. “We look forward to continuing work with NCGHSP to reach these populations directly and help curb once and for all preventable roadway deaths across North Carolina.”

“We need all drivers to focus on saving themselves, their loved ones, their neighbors and friends. Wearing your seat belt, driving sober and traveling at a safe speed is your best defense against death and injury and that’s the standard for all North Carolinians,” said Ezzell.

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