Pedestrians of color are more likely to be killed on the road. This study may reveal why.

A new study illuminates the very real dangers of literally "walking while black."

In addition to rogue police officers targeting people of color on the street, a recent study from Portland State University found that drivers are less likely to stop for black pedestrians.

The study, a follow-up from one conducted in 2014, administered tests using identically dressed black and white volunteers attempting to cross the same intersection. The 2014 study revealed black male pedestrians waited 32% longer than white male pedestrians for cars to stop. The 2017 research expanded on these tests to include black and white women and marked versus unmarked crosswalks.  


When the crosswalk was unmarked, the stopping rate was relatively low across the board, regardless of race or gender — and regardless of Oregon law. However, when zebra stripes were added to the crosswalk, drivers were more likely to stop for white pedestrians, regardless of their own race or gender. In these marked crosswalks, cars stopped for white pedestrians 57% of the time and black pedestrians 44% of the time.

A zebra-striped crosswalk. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

And the drivers who did stop for black pedestrians tended to crowd the crosswalk, giving black pedestrians less room to cross safely.

The researchers also measured where drivers stopped for pedestrians. A driver stopping on or before the stop line is more than 10 feet away from the intersection, giving the pedestrian ample room to cross. When the pedestrian was a black male, drivers stopped after the stop line in 71% of the trials. For black women, it was 67%.

When the pedestrians were white men or women, the drivers stopped before the line 52% and 55% of the time, respectively.

Yes, you're reading this data correctly — the very tool meant to keep all pedestrians safe is generally effective only when the pedestrians are white.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

Studies like this don't necessarily mean everyone behind the wheel is racist. But it's likely that implicit biases are at work.

Since the race and ethnicity of the driver had little effect on whether they yielded to pedestrians, it's unlikely that they're driving around with malicious intent to injure or harm pedestrians of color. However, subconscious and implicit biases — aversions, preferences, or attitudes that we prescribe to certain people or communities without even realizing it — are real and powerful. When we have to make quick decisions, our brains often rely on these implicit biases, which can have unintended (even deadly) consequences.

"Driving is a situation where you're processing a lot of information," Kimberly Kahn of the Transportation Research and Education Center at Portland State University told The Oregonian. "It's in those situations where the most subtle and implicit biases can impact decision-making."

Some of these implicit biases may be why people of color are overrepresented when it comes to pedestrian fatalities.

In 2014, nearly 5,000 people in the U.S. were killed while walking. Non-white individuals are approximately 35% of the U.S. population but make up just over 46% of pedestrian deaths. Some of this can be attributed to the higher prevalence of pedestrians of color and the way certain streets and neighborhoods are designed with minimal safe crossings. However, even controlling for these factors, a disparity persists — it's simply not safe to walk in some neighborhoods.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

But there are ways to combat both unsafe walking conditions and our own biases.

Increasing the number of drivers stopping for pedestrians across the board will inherently improve the number of drivers stopping for people of color. This means pushing local leaders for better crosswalk signage and street marking. It's also important to implement smart design, investigate where pedestrians are most at risk for being struck, and consider what measures can be put in place to slow cars or change traffic patterns.

And it's crucial that we work on our own implicit biases, first by acknowledging that they exist. It can be difficult to take a good hard look at why we think the way we do, but by examining our own preconceived notions and attitudes, we can make great strides toward dismantling or changing them.

Photo by Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images.

More

Mom and blogger Mary Katherine Backstrom regularly shares snippets of life with her two children on her Facebook page. One particularly touching interaction with her daughter is melting hearts and blowing minds due to the three-year-old's wise words about forgiveness.

Even adults struggle with the concept of forgiveness. Entire books have been written about how and why to forgive those who have wronged us, but many still have a hard time getting it. Who would guess that a preschooler could encapsulate what forgiveness means in a handful of innocent words?

Keep Reading Show less
Family

California has a housing crisis. Rent is so astronomical, one San Francisco company is offering bunk bedsfor $1,200 a month; Google even pledged$1 billion to help tackle the issue in the Bay Area. But the person who might fix it for good? Kanye West.

The music mogul first announced his plan to build low-income housing on Twitter late last year.

"We're starting a Yeezy architecture arm called Yeezy home. We're looking for architects and industrial designers who want to make the world better," West tweeted.

Keep Reading Show less
Cities

The U.S. women's soccer team won the Women's World Cup, but the victory is marred by the fact that the team is currently fighting for equal pay. In soccer, the game is won by scoring points, but the fight for equal pay isn't as clearly winnable and the playing field isn't as even.

We live in a world where winning the World Cup is easier than winning equal pay, but co-captain Megan Rapinoe says there's one easy way fans can support the team: Go see games.

Some people argue the men's team deserves to get paid more because they are more successful and earn more money for the United States Soccer Federation. Pay depends on merchandise and ticket sales, and in general, men's sporting events tend to draw a bigger crowd than women's sporting events. It's not about sex, many argue; it's about the fact that people just prefer to see men play.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture

You think you know someone pretty well when you spend years with them, but, as we've seen time and again, that's not always the case. And though many relationships don't get to a point where the producers of "Who the (Bleep) Did I Marry?" start calling every day just to chat, the reality is that sometimes partners will reveal shocking things even after you thought you'd been all shocked out.

That's the case for one woman whose Reddit thread has recently gone viral. The 25-year-old, who's been with her boyfriend for five years, took to a forum for relationship advice to ask if it was normal that her seemingly cool and loving boyfriend recently revealed women shouldn't have a fundamental right. (And no, it's not abortion — although there are a lot of "otherwise best ever boyfriends" out there who want to deny women the rights to bodily autonomy, too.)

Keep Reading Show less
Recommended