Expert Commentary

Exploring the impacts of safety culture on immigrants’ vulnerability in crashes

2012 study in the Journal of Urban Health on the role of safety culture in census tract-level pedestrian and cyclist crashes in New York City.

By their very nature, city streets are filled with a broad spectrum of users, from children walking with their parents all the way up to tractor-trailer trucks, which can weigh 80,000 pounds or more. With such an immense disparity in size, those outside motorized vehicles are the ones most likely to suffer in a crash — in 2008, more than 5,000 pedestrians and cyclists were killed by vehicles in the United States, and more than 120,000 were injured.

Statistics have long indicated that disadvantaged minorities are overrepresented among those injured or killed in crashes. While it has been suggested that factors relating to their socio-economic status and greater reliance on walking and cycling might play a role, a 2012 study in the Journal of Urban Health suggests another factor: The “safety culture” of an immigrant’s homeland.

The study, “Exploring the Impacts of Safety Culture on Immigrants’ Vulnerability in Non-motorized Crashes,” examines the role of individuals’ culture in New York City pedestrian and cyclist crashes. Conducted by scholars from the University of Washington, City College of New York, and University of Hong Kong, the study is based on New York City data from 2001 to 2003, when nearly 41,000 crashes involving pedestrians and cyclists took place.

The findings include:

  • Neighborhoods’ percentage of foreign-born population was a significant contributor: For each 1% increase in those born outside the United States, the number of crashes increased 5.63%. Such areas “tend to have more pedestrian and cycle crashes after controlling for other factors including native-born minorities.”
  • Neighborhoods’ daytime population density, residential or retail floor area, and visitor-oriented employment are associated with more crashes.
  • More crashes occur in areas with many streets with four or more lanes, one-way streets, and intersections with four or more “legs.” Of these, the last is the most significant: A 1% increase in the number of intersections with four or more legs was associated with a 3.29% increase in the number of crashes.
  • Areas with schools and a high percentage of residents 18 to 21 are associated with more crashes.
  • Areas with a high number of immigrants from Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America have more pedestrian and cyclist crashes than those with immigrants from Western Europe.
  • Immigrants tend to adopt the “safety culture” of their adopted country within five years: “We expect to observe a declining trend in the significance and magnitude of the coefficients associated with longer years of stay and eventually, the estimate becomes insignificant.”

Because they relied on police statistics, the authors state that the “immigrant effect” found in the study is likely to be low. The data used produce a probable underestimation of actual incidences: “In reality, many pedestrian and cyclist crashes, especially when involving immigrants, are not reported.”

The study states that policy makers should learn about the walking and cycling behavior of immigrants and work to promote safe walking and cycling among recent arrivals. In addition, the authors suggest engineering solutions such as pedestrian barriers and bike lanes.

Tags: bicycling, bicycle, bikes, cars, safety

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