New Research Shows Drivers Have a Clear Racial Bias Against Black Pedestrians

Do Portland drivers exhibit racist tendencies at crosswalks? Yes, according to a new PSU study. (PSU)
Do Portland drivers exhibit racist tendencies at crosswalks? Yes, according to a new PSU study. (PSU)

Racial bias doesn’t stop with education, employment, health care and criminal sentencing. It’s also prevalent at crosswalks in Portland, according to a new study of traffic psychology.

Conducted in downtown Portland, the joint Portland State University and University of Arizona study found that twice as many drivers failed to yield for black pedestrians than those who were white. Meanwhile, black pedestrians typically had to wait a third longer for cars to stop for them when they had the legal right of way.

With fewer motorists yielding for them, minorities are more likely to take greater risks to cross the street, which might factor into why they’re disproportionately represented in U.S. pedestrian fatalities, the study concluded.

“In a fast-paced activity like driving, where decisions may need to be made in a fraction of a second, people’s’ actions can be influenced by these subtle attitudes,” the study said.

The results come at the same time as the Smart Growth America’s annual “Dangerous by Design 2014” report (PDF) showing the most dangerous U.S. Cities for pedestrians. Despite a string of deaths in the final weeks of 2013, the Portland metro area was ranked the seventh safest for walking, according to the group’s “pedestrian danger index.”

Between 2003 and 2012, 47,025 pedestrians died along American roads — 16 times the number killed in earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes, the report showed. Another 676,000 pedestrians were injured.

Nationally, African-Americans have a 60 percent higher rate of pedestrian deaths than whites, the Smart Growth America study shows. Meanwhile, it’s 43 percent higher for Hispanics.

For their study on racial bias at crosswalks, PSU researchers Kimberly Barsamian Kahn and Tara Goddard, and Arlie Adkins, of the University of Arizona, chose an unsignalized but clearly marked crosswalk near Southwest Park Avenue and Clay Street.

It’s one of downtown’s most used midblock crossings, where yielding isn’t influenced by cross traffic or turning.

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Source: The Oregonian | Joseph Rose | jrose@oregonian.com 

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