Don't cross the street while black, according to new study

Yeild sign
CC BY 2.0 Wikipedia

It’s long been known that when drivers of cars kill people, the victims are disproportionately poor and black or latino. The standard explanation for this is that fewer of them have cars so there are more of them in the streets, and they often live in areas with poorer street lighting and traffic signals. But a new study notes that there is another factor: Bias.

The study, Examining racial bias as a potential factor in pedestrian crashes, examined “the potential for racial bias in driver yielding behaviors at midblock crosswalks in low and high income neighborhoods located in the sprawling metropolitan area of Las Vegas, NV.”

In the study, a white woman and a black woman used a crosswalk on multi-lane roads in both a high and a low income neighbourhood. They were watched by observers who counted the cars that passed without yielding while the pedestrian waited to cross.

The first car in the nearest lane yielded to the pedestrian while they waited at the curb 51.5% of the time at the high income and 70.7% of the time at the low income crosswalk. Two way ANOVAs [Analysis of Variance] found an interaction effect between income and race on yielding behaviors. Simple effects for income revealed that at the high income crosswalk, drivers were less likely to yield to the white pedestrian while she waited at the curb, and were less likely to yield to the black pedestrian while she was in the same half of the roadway at the high income crosswalk. Simple effects for race showed significantly more cars passed through the crosswalk while the black pedestrian was in the roadway compared to the white pedestrian at the high income crosswalk.

We have seen before that rich people in fancy cars tend to ignore pedestrians at a higher rate, so it is not surprising that more drivers yield in the low income neighborhood than the high income one. It's also telling that for all the drivers complaining about cyclists and people walking just darting out and ignoring the jaywalking rules, barely half of the drivers in the higher income area even bother with the rules regarding yielding to pedestrians. But the study confirms that there is a racial tinge to the driver's actions. The study concludes:

  • Bias in yielding may influence rates of pedestrian crashes for people of color.
  • Drivers yielded less to the white pedestrian while she waited at the curb.
  • Drivers yielded less to the black pedestrian while she was in the roadway.
  • Failing to yield while in the road has greater safety implications for people of color.
  • Policies and environmental modifications to enhance pedestrian safety are warranted.

So now we know: Don’t cross the street while black. Or at least be really careful.

Related Content on