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Race, Hispanic origin, and socioeconomic status in relation to motor vehicle occupant death rates and risk factors among adults

Braver, Elisa R.
Accident Analysis and Prevention
May 2003

Black and Hispanic adults travel less in motor vehicles than whites but may be at greater risk when they do travel. Passenger vehicle occupant deaths per 10 million trips among persons ages 25-64 were computed by race, Hispanic origin, gender, and socioeconomic status (SES) using 1995 data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) and Nationwide Personal Transportation Survey. Educational level was used as the indicator of SES. Blacks, particularly black men, were at increased risk of dying relative to whites when traveling in motor vehicles (rate ratio (RR) for black men=1.48; 95% confidence interval (CI)=1.42-1.54). Hispanic men, but not Hispanic women, also had elevated occupant death rates, but their risk was less than that of black men (RR=1.26; 95% CI=1.20-1.31). SES was the strongest determinant of occupant deaths per unit of travel; RRs among those who had not completed high school were 3.52 (95% CI=3.39-3.65) for men and 2.79 (95% CI=2.69-2.91) for women, respectively. Whites without high school degrees had the highest death rates per 10 million trips. After adjustment for SES, the elevated risk of occupant fatalities persisted among black men and women, but not among Hispanic men. Seat belt use and alcohol-impaired driving were examined among fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers. Among those with no education beyond high school, higher percentages were reported as having high blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) or having not used belts. Reported belt use rates were lower among black men and women, even after controlling for SES, whereas Hispanic men and women had belt use rates similar to those of whites. High BACs were more common among Hispanic men, which appeared largely to be an effect of SES because most Hispanic men killed in crashes had not completed high school, the education level with the highest percentage that drove while impaired by alcohol. More effective public health efforts are needed to reduce occupant deaths among persons of lower SES, blacks, and Hispanics, including measures to increase use of seat belts and reduce alcohol-impaired driving.