Traffic fatalities across the United States have been plummeting for several years. Washington Post calls it “a major victory for regulation…and auto innovation.” With laws cutting down drunk driving, and cars being built with state-of-the-art safety features, Missouri roads are getting safer, but as the article goes on to say, it is not a victory for everyone in the U.S.
New data shows that there is an inequality in the so-called victory; “The most disadvantaged are more likely — and have grown even more likely over time — to die in car crashes than people who are well-off.”
In other words, poor people are more likely to die in a car crash.
The Traffic Fatality Study
A team of researchers recently published a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology regarding traffic fatalities and education. The researchers found that the road safety improvements the U.S. has seen since the 90s has not been evenly shared.
The team looked at statistics regarding traffic fatalities for people 25 and older, comparing those who have less than a high school diploma to those who have college degrees (and everywhere in between). They found that for those 25 and older with less than a high school diploma, fatality rates have actually increased.
“In 1995, these death rates — adjusted for age, sex and race — were about 2.5 times higher for people at the bottom of the education spectrum than those at the top. By 2010, they were about 4.3 times higher. That means the inequality of traffic fatalities is getting worse, even as it looks nationwide as if our roads are getting safer.”
Education Doesn’t Make You A Better Driver
Certainly, not many of us with college degrees took an entire semester’s worth of classes on being a better driver. The takeaway is NOT that education makes you a better driver. Rather, adults with less education tend to make less money. The study is exposing traffic fatality inequality between socioeconomic classes.
The least-educated tend to earn less money, which affects their car choice. They typically own older, cheaper cars which have lower crash-test ratings and fewer “fancy” safety features like side airbags or rear cameras.
Communities Impacting Safety
While the inequality in car safety features seems reasonable, a less-obvious hindrance to vehicle safety was exposed in the study; the resources in the community itself.
In many poor communities, residents have less political power to fight for improved safety features like stop signs, crosswalks, and speedbumps. As a result, the number of pedestrian accidents is higher in poorer communities.
Researchers also observed that the number of trauma centers has declined in both poor and rural areas. This could affect the health care people receive after being involved in a collision—lowering their chances of survival in the event an accident does occur.
Behavioral Differences In Drivers
The study concedes that it is difficult to quantify human behavior. For example, while studies in the past have found that lower-income individuals are less likely to use a seatbelt, this is changing rapidly. Seatbelt use is increasing faster among the socioeconomic group than any other group at this time. This may begin to “bridge the gap” between the classes, but more would have to change.
“As we increasingly fantasize about new technologies that will save us from our own driving errors — cars that will brake for us, or spot cyclists we can’t see, or even take over all the navigation — we should anticipate that, at first, those benefits may mostly go to the rich.”
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