Traffic Light


NHTSA People Saving People

Technology Transfer Series

Number 239 January 2001


Until recently, data on the ethnicity of road users killed in motor vehicle crashes have not been available in the Fatality Analysis Reporting Systems (FARS). An agreement between the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) has made possible the matching of FARS records on fatally injured road users with death certificate data from the NCHS files to obtain race and ethnicity information.

The Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation analyzed over 199,316 fatally injured highway users during the period from 1990 to 1994, which is the latest available data.

In 1994, motor vehicle traffic crashes were the ninth leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for 41,507 deaths and an age-adjusted death rate of 15.7 per 100,000 population. Among accidental causes of death, motor vehicle crashes were ranked first, followed by falls, poisoning, suffocation, and fires and flames. There are approximately 183 million licensed drivers nationwide and Americans drive more than 2.5 trillion miles annually (FHWA).

Public health and safety experts have become increasing concerned about the motor vehicle crash risks among racial and ethnic minority groups. This concern stems from several sources. First, public health surveillance systems systematically collect and analyze data on the prevalence and disproportionate share of morbidity and mortality. Additionally, changing demographic patterns suggest that the involvement of certain population subgroups will increase in the near future. The Hispanic American population is expected to increase dramatically in the next few decades, and is younger than the Caucasian American population. A greater number of Hispanic Americans can be expected to enter age groups most at risk for motor vehicle crashes.

Drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and cyclists who died in an alcohol-related crash within the 50 states and the District of Columbia included citizens, residents, and visitors to the United States. The nine ethnic groups covered are Caucasian Americans, African Americans, Native Americans, Asian-Pacific Islander Americans, Mexican Americans, Puerto Rican Americans, Cuban Americans, Central and South Americans, and other unknown Hispanic American.

Alcohol-Related Driver Fatalities by Gender and EthnicityDeath rates provide a measure of the risk of dying from various causes based on the incidence of fatalities within population subgroups. Expressed in terms of a common metric such as the number of deaths per 100,000 population, they are calculated by dividing the total number of fatalities from a stated cause by a subgroup's population and then multiplying by 100,000. Age-adjusted death rates show what the level of mortality would be if the age composition of the population were held constant. Age-adjusted death rates are better indicators for comparisons of mortality between subgroups of the population with different age distributions. The ratio of two groups' death rates is one way to assess the relative risk of death due to a particular cause for members of one population compared to another.


Men are more likely than women to be driving at the time of a fatal crash, and men are more likely than women to have been drinking at the time of a fatal alcohol-related crash, and this is true across ethnic groups.

The percentage of fatal crashes that were alcohol-related declined for most ethnic groups between 1990 and 1994.

Drivers and passengers killed in fatal crashes who had been drinking were least likely to have been wearing safety belts.

Approximately one in seven road users killed in an alcohol-related crash had not been drinking. Drivers in their 20s and 30s have the highest rate of involvement in alcohol-related crashes.

Pedestrians who are fatally injured are more likely to be drinking than are drivers. Well over one-half of all pedestrian fatalities for persons ages 16 to 60 are alcohol related. About one in four pedestrian deaths in the 6 to 15 age group are alcohol related.

Asian-Pacific Islander Americans have distinctly lower rates of alcohol-related fatalities, and this is true for all types of road users -- drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and cyclists. Asian-Pacific Islander Americans also have the highest rate of safety belt use by drivers who were killed in fatal crashes.

African Americans generally have the same rate of alcohol involvement for drivers and passengers as Caucasian Americans but have a slightly higher rate for pedestrians and cyclists. In age groups above 40, African American drivers and pedestrians tend to have higher percentages of alcohol-related fatalities than Caucasian Americans. Fatally injured African Americans are less likely to be belted at the time of the crash than are Caucasian Americans.

Among Hispanics, Cuban Americans stand out for their low percentage of alcohol-related driver, passenger, and pedestrian fatalities. Cuban American fatally injured passengers are more likely than any other ethnic group to have been using restraints at the time of the crash. Next to Native Americans, Mexican Americans have the highest alcohol-related fatality rates among all four types of road users. This is true for both men and women.

Native Americans have the highest percentage of alcohol-involved driver, passenger, and pedestrian fatalities of any ethnic group. Three out of four drivers and eight out of ten pedestrian fatalities occur in alcohol-related crashes. Fatally injured Native American drivers and passengers have the lowest safety belt usage rates of any ethnic group.


For a copy of Evaluation of a Full-Time Ride Service Program: Aspen Colorado's Tipsy Taxi Service (29 pages), write to the Office of Research and Traffic Records, NHTSA, NTS-31, 400 Seventh Street, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20590, or fax (202) 366-7096, or download from Amy Berning was the contract manager for this project.

U.S. Department of Transportation
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
400 Seventh Street, S.W. NTS-31
Washington, DC 20590

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Linda Cosgrove, Ph.D., Editor, Evaluation Staff
Traffic Safety Programs
(202) 366-2759, fax (202) 366-7096