Road Safety News

US study reveals road death inequalities

Tuesday 6th October 2015

People who are educationally disadvantaged are more likely to die in road traffic collisions than those with better qualifications, according to new research from the US.

The study, carried out by researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found larger mortality decreases among the more highly educated and some evidence of mortality increases among the least educated.

The researchers examined trends in education-related inequalities in the US for motor vehicle collisions from 1995 to 2010.

The research shows that the death rates in 1995 for people at the bottom of the education spectrum were about 2.5 times more likely to be killed in a road collision than those with a higher quality education. By 2010, the death rate was found to be 4.3 times higher.

The researchers used mortality data from the National Centre for Health Statistics and population estimates from the Current Population Survey to calculate vehicle-and person-miles travelled, using data from the National Household Travel Survey.

In its coverage of the research, the Washington Post draws the conclusion that the underlying issue is not that being educated makes a person better road user, but that less-educated individuals are more likely to live with conditions that can make travelling more dangerous.  

For example, they own cars that are older and have lower crash-test ratings, and are also unlikely to be able to afford vehicles with safety features such as side airbags, automatic warnings and rear cameras.

It also suggests that residents who live in poor communities lack ‘crosswalks’ over major roads and have less influence to fight for design improvements such as stop signs, speed bumps and sidewalks. As a result, pedestrian fatalities are higher in these communities.

Sam Harper, one of the report’s researchers, said: “It's true that there are big differences in the quality of the residential environments that people have in terms of their risks of accidental death as pedestrians.”


Comment on this story
Report a reader comment

What's your view - comment on this story:

I confirm that I have read and accept the moderation policy and house rules relating to comments posted on this website.
Your comment:
Your name and location:
Your email:

For the avoidance of doubt the very best metric to use for accident analysis is the fatality rate per 100 million passenger journeys.

The following table from the Proceedings of the Fifth Safety-critical Systems Symposium illustrates why it is such a revealing metric.

Motorcycle = 100
Air = 55
Water = 25
Pedal cycle = 12
Foot = 5.1
Car = 4.5
Van = 2.7
Rail = 2.7
Bus/coach = 0.3
Duncan MacKillop. No surprise - No accident.

Agree (0) | Disagree (2)

Dear Mr King,

In the first instance, 100 million kilometres travelled is based on survey estimations - not real life and has been subject to controversy in the research arena for many years.

If you found yourself offended by my comments, then clearly you did not take the time to read what I wrote which was effectively the opposite of your contention - "there was no boundary in terms of education - dumb is dumb whatever level of qualifications one might attain." This suggests that you really didn't bother to read what I had written.

The link - is to a study I carried out this year on vehicle occupant fatalities and as you will see, there are factors - which can only suggest irresponsibility - but also - as I commented - lack of appropriate training and awareness.

Thank you
Dr Elaine Hardy
Elaine - South of France

Agree (3) | Disagree (1)

I agree Roy. There was no direct association by Elaine and that particular remark was not directed at Elaine.
Rod King, 20's Plenty for Us

Agree (1) | Disagree (1)

To be fair to Elaine, Rod, I don't think she was bracketing lack of education with stupidity. In my experience, stupidity - if we are using that word - behind the wheel is classless and as she put it, across the board - as is arrogance, another undesirable personality trait behind the wheel.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (3) | Disagree (0)

This thread dovetails with the 'Save Kids Lives' film. Some people are genuinely stupid, but most are simply uneducated - there is a big difference. And some just have a lack of options.
Derek Reynolds, Salop.

Agree (2) | Disagree (0)

I am somewhat surprised at comments such as "it stands to reason that less educated people are more likely to be involved in collisions - because there are more of them." Surely the fact that the figures were based on "crash deaths per 100 million vehicle miles travelled" would have eliminated any difference in the numbers of people in educational groups.

Surely in a society that rewards educational advantage then we can expect the more educated to be driving more modern cars with better safety features.

I am afraid that I do find it offensive to link "lack of education" with "stupidity". As far as the roads are concerned one only has to look at the parking issues around any school in a "well-heeled" and presumably "well-educated" area to see levels of driving "stupidity" which show the flaw in any such argument.
Rod King, 20's Plenty for Us

Agree (4) | Disagree (1)

Bravo Elaine for putting into words (your last paragraph) what a lot of us involved in this field think but are not always able to voice! I still shudder when I recall a speeding motorist we stopped who was holding a scalding hot coffee in his left hand - not wearing his seatbelt either. Or the man doing 50 through a built-up area with wife and three children in the back - again none of them belted in. As I've said elsewhere recently, they don't just get one thing wrong, they get everything wrong. Cliche alert - accidents waiting to happen.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (1) | Disagree (1)

The point about this particular study is that it is quantitative research. Its aims and objectives were to compare levels of education in comparison to road casualties. As I wrote at the beginning, it stands to reason that less educated people are more likely to be involved in collisions - because there are more of them.

The point I am making is that - and in this respect I agree with you Hugh - it's not that simple and statistics alone do not necessarily provide the answers.

As an example, in a study carried out by ACEM (European Motorcycle Manufacturers Association) they found that there were far more motorcyclists with red motorcycles having more collisions - but looking further into the issue - it appears that there were far more red motorcycles on the road.

My personal view - based on my analysis of road fatalities (in three studies) is that there is a major issue with lack of training and awareness.

I also found that there is a "stupid" factor - across the board - which means that in quite a large number of cases, people crash because they are stupid or irresponsible. But that's my opinion based on my findings - for what it's worth. Some of the stuff I read when carrying out my research was just mind boggling - and by the way, there was no boundary in terms of education - dumb is dumb whatever level of qualifications one might attain.
Elaine - South of France

Agree (3) | Disagree (2)

The field of studying and analysing road collisions is unique in that it is all around us to witness for ourselves first hand - every time we go out and use the highway, or even just look out of our living room windows. In fact as users of the highway, we are all part of the problem (or not, depending on how diligent we are as individual road users) so in this field, studying data is less important than perhaps in other areas where anonymous data is all that there is to work from.

With so many TV programmes and You Tube showing real accidents caught on camera which we can replay over and over and analyse to our hearts content, I would even say that Stats 19 is becoming redundant.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (0) | Disagree (11)

Hugh, Bruce,

It's more complex than your explanations.

Within research, there are various methods used to find results. Some for example, identify a theory and work to prove that theory is correct or in any case, provides a result as near as possible to it. Other methods, for example empirical research, aim to look at a problem and based on the data or outcome of the analysis of that data, provide an answer.

The issue becomes problematic when theories are driven by the proponent of the research or rather, by the organisation wanting results and ultimately paying for these results. In other words, purists are a rare breed in research.

An American Sociologist - Charles Murray once believed that the ills of society (anti-social behaviour and theft) were due to unmarried mothers and their illegitimate children and in the 1980s this was a very popular vein of research - leading to all sorts of policies and opinions - which fortunately have now been identified as complete rubbish.

Research is a valuable tool to understand why things happens. Its abuse is unfortunate because it blinds us to answers which would really help us work out how to reduce road casualties.
Elaine - South of France

Agree (10) | Disagree (2)

If any of the deaths could have been prevented by the occupants wearing their seat belts (when it was a legal requirement) then surely 'finger-wagging' would have been appropriate to achieve risk-reduction in these cicrcumstances? Applies to lots of other undesirable, if not actually illegal, road user actions as well.

Studying mass data of anonymous accidents without knowing who actually did what, where etc. and then simply guessing that this might be due, for example, to poor communities not being able to press for improvements is just theorising on the part of the authors.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (1) | Disagree (8)

There are reasons why this kind of research can be useful for road safety practitioners. Resources are finite, so engineering, enforcement and education interventions all require targeting in order to be effective. The Washington Post’s comments about pedestrian crossing facilities in deprived neighbourhoods is one example of the utility of this.

Intervention design is not simply about those who “caused” collisions, or parties deemed to be “at fault”. Collisions are often complex events involving many factors, and risk reduction cannot be achieved by prosecution or finger-wagging alone. Gaining insight into risk enables us to reduce it more effectively – and this should not be confused with victim-blaming.

This report is not biased by the fact that there are more people without college degrees than with them. As the chart title clearly explains, it is based on rates by vehicle mileage, not on a head count, so this has been factored out. However, it is not clear from this coverage whether or not actual deprivation levels, with attendant consequences such as driving older vehicles, were taken into account. The value of this research would be greater if this potential confounding factor has been addressed.
Bruce Walton, Road Safety Analysis

Agree (9) | Disagree (2)

As this report only seems concerned with the type of people who were killed (either as victims or perpetrators) rather than what sort of person caused the actual collisions in the first place, it does seem rather meaningless. Does it for instance, take into account the variation in seatbelt laws and enforcement thereof which seems to vary from state to state and could have played a part in whether an occupant survived or not? Analysis based on data alone is not very useful - examining each collision in detail and then checking the educational background of the individual(s) most at fault would be more useful if any significance is to be attached to the demographic. In my experience, driving faults and poor road behaviour is not necessarily limited to class, social background or education, it is down to individual personality and character.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (2) | Disagree (3)

WOW!! Eugenics R us? Did you know that IQ tests were "invented" in the USA in the last century in order to weed out "Southern Europeans" when applying for entry in the the States? What possible purpose could the outcome of this study aim to determine?

Lately there seems to be direction taken by road safety "researchers" to look for new ways of identifying those more likely to be involved in collisions and death.

I guess obvious reasons for not being involved in collisions might also be due to the fact that those with a higher education - i.e. with a university degree are proportionately far less than the huddled masses. In other words - proportionately it stands to reason that people with higher educations are less involved in collisions - because there are less of them. Simple really.

I must admit, I would love to know how much this research cost....
Elaine - South of France

Agree (5) | Disagree (5)

Are you really surprised that Americans had to have this pointed out to them through some sort of study! That said back in the 70s the Department of Transport reported that child pedestrian casualties were lower during school hours than outside those times and during holidays. Sometimes we need to be reminded that the great unwashed public neither know or care as they all are above average road users and it won't happen to them. The trouble is common sense is not common. The report does again highlight the point that those who shout loudest get their choice and the poorer educated don't know how to shout. Liken that to the cycling lobby versus the motorcyclists who are at similar risk levels but are not nationally organised to shout loudly.
Peter, City of Westminster

Agree (12) | Disagree (3)

'US Study Reveals Road Death Inequalities'
Who writes these titles? 'Reveals' by definition previously unknown. I am suprised that it takes a group of Americans to actually have to undertake a study to realise this. Sit up and take note of all the data you globally collect.

Agree (6) | Disagree (4)