Some groups are at greater risk, per trip, of dying in a crash. Educational attainment plays a dominant role in motor vehicle occupant deaths but race/ethnicity, independently of education, also affects death rates.
These are some of the key findings of an Institute analysis of 1995 data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System and Nationwide Personal Transportation Survey. The study looks at passenger vehicle occupant deaths per 10 million trips among people 25-64 years old by race/ethnicity (blacks, whites, Hispanics), gender, and socioeconomic status as indicated by educational attainment.
Death rates per unit of travel differed considerably by race/ethnicity and gender. Black men, and to a lesser extent black women, had higher death rates than whites. Per trip, black men were about 1.5 times more likely to die, compared with white men.
Hispanic men, but not Hispanic women, had higher rates. The men were about 1.3 times more likely to die per trip, compared with white men. Women's death rates were less than half those of men across all racial/ethnic and socioeconomic groups.
Risk of dying tied to education
In every racial/ethnic group, the highest death rates were among the people who hadn't completed high school. Men and women without high school diplomas had about 3 times the fatality risk of people who had some education beyond high school. The very highest death rates were among white men who hadn't graduated from high school.
Some of the racial/ethnic differences in death rates changed when the rates were compared among groups with the same educational levels. Hispanic men had the same or lower risk of dying relative to white men. This wasn't true for blacks — those with high school diplomas or further education were more likely to die in crashes, relative to whites. A slight elevation in death rates was observed among Hispanic women with education beyond high school, compared with white women of similar educational attainment.
"It's important to realize that socioeconomic status was the key determinant of occupant death rates per trip. Death rates went down with increasing levels of education for all racial/ethnic groups, but the rates went down more for whites than for blacks, so we saw higher death rates for blacks than for whites in the groups with more education," says Elisa Braver, senior researcher at the Institute.
Differences in risk factors
Researchers also looked at differences in the risky behaviors that affect death rates. Fatally injured drivers who had not completed high school had the lowest rates of safety belt use and the highest blood alcohol concentrations (BACs). In addition, there were racial and ethnic differences in these two risk factors. Hispanic male drivers who died in crashes were more likely than whites or blacks to have high BACs. This partly reflects the lower educational levels among Hispanic men killed in crashes.
Fatally injured black drivers were less likely than whites or Hispanics to have been using belts. Blacks and whites without high school diplomas had similar belt use rates. Although black people with more education had higher use rates than less educated blacks, they still used their belts less often than whites with comparable education. Similar findings are revealed by a recent Institute survey of belt use by blacks, whites, and Hispanics.
"These results indicate the need for programs to decrease alcohol-impaired driving and to increase safety belt use, including the passage of stronger laws," Braver says. She adds that "whatever programs are adopted will, of course, have to be sensitive to the concerns of the various ethnic/racial communities."