Road Injury Prevention Litigation Journal
Road Injury Prevention & Litigation Journal
Copyright © 1997 by TranSafety, Inc.
December 1, 1997
TranSafety, Inc.
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Motor-Vehicle Crashes Are the Third Leading Cause of Death for Hispanic Americans

Most of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA's) traffic safety programs are designed for English-speaking motorists and pedestrians. The United States population, however, has many culturally diverse groups. Hispanic Americans are the third largest racial group in the United States, yet there is little data on their involvement in vehicle crashes or their attitudes toward traffic safety. In an effort to bridge that gap, Sandra Sainz and Mitsuru Saito conducted a study and reported their findings in "Hispanic Involvement in Motor Vehicle Accidents" (Transportation Research Record 1560).


The study "collected data on Hispanic involvement in motor vehicle accidents and identified directions for effectively promoting traffic safety education and accident prevention programs in the Hispanic community." The intent was to learn the number and severity of crashes involving Hispanics, to evaluate the causes, and to develop recommendations to reach the Hispanic community and increase their awareness of traffic safety and prevention measures.

Objectives included compiling a list of data sources, enlisting the assistance of national and local Hispanic organizations, and conducting a survey among Hispanic motorists. Because of time issues, this study reported results only on the extent and severity of traffic crashes in the Hispanic community.

The authors contacted the U.S. Census Bureau to determine the 10 states with the largest Hispanic populations: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Texas. The available statistics from these states included little racial data, and New Jersey and Florida had no data on Hispanics. Researchers did collect usable data from Puerto Rico, Arizona, Illinois, Massachusetts, Texas, and New York City. When possible, fatality rates were calculated per 100,000 Hispanics based on the 1990 census of each state.


The lack of available data resulted in a small sampling, but certain trends were still apparent. For example, in both Illinois and Arizona, the highest fatality rates for Hispanics occurred among the 15-24 age group, which coincides with the overall trend identified by NHTSA--fatality and injury rates are highest among this age group for the entire U.S. population. Arizona and Texas also included data for age and gender. In Texas, Hispanic males had more than double the fatality rate of females. Based on this trend (also noted in Arizona), the authors concluded that "raising awareness of traffic safety among Hispanic males may be an important consideration in planning accident prevention programs." In New York City, pedestrian fatality rates were significantly higher than those for drivers, which may be a phenomenon unique to that city.

Based on data unavailability, age-related comparisons between Hispanics and non-Hispanics presented difficulties. Nonetheless, among the five standard age groups (1-14, 15-24, 25-44, 45-64, and 65+), motor vehicle fatality rates were higher for Hispanics in all age groups except 45-64 and 65+. Comparing deaths from traffic fatalities with deaths from other causes again revealed certain trends. In 1990, motor vehicle crashes were the fourth leading cause of death among Hispanics in Colorado, as compared with the eighth leading cause for the white non-Hispanic population. Again, younger drivers were more at risk. Traffic fatalities were the leading cause of death for those ages 13-34, and the second leading cause for those ages 35-44. In New Mexico, between 1990 and 1992, traffic fatalities were the leading cause of death for Hispanics ages 25-44, a trend also identified in Arizona in 1989-1990.

Other states revealed similar data. Among Hispanics, motor vehicle fatalities were the third leading cause of death in Arizona, California, Illinois, New Mexico, and Texas. In Puerto Rico, they were the sixth leading cause of death. Based on these findings, the authors concluded that "overall, deaths caused by motor vehicle accidents seem to rank higher among Hispanics than white non-Hispanics."


Motor vehicle fatalities were the third leading cause of death among Hispanics in the states studied. Because the Hispanic population is expected to "increase dramatically in the near future," the number of Hispanics involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes is also expected to increase. Currently, data on traffic fatalities among Hispanics is scarce; and, when available, it is often in a variety of formats--which makes analysis and comparisons difficult. The authors recommended establishing a common format for data.

According to the researchers, to echo its successful nationwide efforts in promoting traffic safety awareness, NHTSA "should reach out to Hispanic communities with an understanding of their culture. Using Spanish is a starting point." In addition, "contacting established organizations serving Hispanic communities, such as public agencies, community groups, and radio stations, is essential to having traffic safety problems accepted by Hispanic communities." Efforts to educate and increase awareness "should be a priority" for the 14-24 and 25-44 age groups. We should also educate young children about traffic safety issues. Finally, demographics should be considered in developing programs. Some regions of the country have a higher proportion of either younger or older Hispanics, and efforts to increase traffic safety should be based on the specific needs of different age groups.

Copyright © 1997 by TranSafety, Inc.

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