Road traffic crashes (RTCs) or road traffic accidents (RTAs) are a major cause of injuries and deaths both in the US and worldwide. A report issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) reveals that in 2013, traffic accidents claimed the lives of approximately 1.3 million people (WHO, n.d.). RTAs are the main cause of death for young drivers aged 15 to 29 years (WHO, 2015). If the current trend continues, RTAs will account for every fifth death worldwide by 2030 (Ernstberger et al., 2015).
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Fortunately, recent efforts by federal, state, and local authorities and non-profit organizations have led to a dramatic decrease in traffic accidents in the US. Nonetheless, more than 30, 000 lives were lost to traffic crashes in the US in 2012 (Lee, Abdel-Aty, & Choi, 2014). These tragic statistics call for a better understanding of traffic safety issues that have led to an increase in the American burden of deaths and injuries.
There are many factors that contribute to both the incidence rates of vehicle crashes and their severity. The findings of a study conducted by Morgan and Mannering show that there are “substantial differences across age/gender groups under different roadway-surface conditions and argued that drivers perceive and react to pavement surface conditions in different ways based on gender and as they age” (as cited in Kim, Ulfarsson, Kim, & Shankar, 2013).
In addition to gender and age, alcohol-impaired driving plays a substantial role in car crashes. In the US, alcohol-impaired crashes accounted for 10, 228 deaths in 2011 (Ferguson, 2012). From the point of view of traffic injury prevention, it is clear that alcohol-related traffic accidents are an exceptionally pernicious problem that requires careful study and effective countermeasures.
The aim of this paper is to present a proposal for a research project on the role of ethnicity in alcohol-related traffic accidents. The project will help to better understand whether members of different ethnic groups are at different risk of being involved in alcohol-related traffic accidents because of variances in their blood alcohol content (BAC) levels.
Even though considerable progress has been made during the last few decades in reducing the number of RTAs and especially alcohol-related traffic accidents, hospital and police records reveal that many ethnic and socioeconomic groups are still overrepresented in traffic fatalities (Sehat, Naieni, Asadi-Lari, Foroushani, & Malek-Afzali, 2012). Numerous studies and government reports point to the fact that a likelihood of being involved in driving while under the influence of alcohol (DUI) differs across ethnic groups (Hallstone, 2013; Keys, Liu, & Cerda, 2012).
A study conducted by Caetano, Vaeth, Chartier, and Mills (2014) shows that some ethnicities are more likely than others to consume alcoholic beverages. Specifically, non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic blacks are much likely to develop lifetime alcohol abuse and dependence than Hispanics.
Despite the fact that Hispanics are less likely to display harmful patterns of alcohol consumption, which are associated with a higher risk of traffic accidents, major epidemiologic surveys in the US suggest that it is an ethnic group that is related to the substantial incidence of alcohol-attributable crashes (Keys et al., 2012). However, Hispanics are at a lower risk for self-reported DUI than Whites and at a higher risk than Asians, and Blacks in the US (Delcher, Johnson, & Maldonado-Molina, 2014). It means that complex phenomena may underlie ethnic disparities in the risk of involvement in alcohol-related RTAs. Therefore, there is a need to investigate why the rate of incidence of injurious deaths from motor vehicle accidents is not uniform across different ethnicities.
Scope of the Research
Prior to analyzing the extant literature on the subject and developing a hypothesis regarding the relationship between alcohol-related RTAs involvement and ethnicity, it is necessary to delineate the scope of the research. In order to ensure that the scope of this research is specific enough, it will be limited to a specific area (the State of California) and a sub-area (Northern California).
DUI in California
Over the last few decades, a considerable body of research has been accumulated on traffic accidents in the United States. Area-specific evidence on RTAs is also plentiful, which allows gauging the scope of the issue at hand. DUI arrest rates in California indicate that the problem accounts for a substantial share of local law enforcement efforts (MacLeod et al., 2017). The data for single-vehicle crashes gathered by the California Highway Patrol, suggests that crashes occur at diverse weather conditions and involve different age, gender, and ethnic groups (Kim et al., 2013). Furthermore, there are also substantial differences in injury distributions across these categories.
According to a set of statistics produced by a federal traffic safety agency, 3, 074 people died in motor vehicle accidents in 2014 (Brekke, 2015). The number represents a 2.5 percent increase from the previous year’s death toll of 3, 000 (Brekke, 2015). Most importantly, the increase is representative of a larger trend of the growth in the number of RTAs in California. Namely, 2014 was “the fourth year in a row that vehicle-related fatalities have increased in the state” (Brekke, 2015, para. 4).
A fact sheet issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that more than 10, 000 people were killed in alcohol-related RTAs in California over the period between 2003 and 2012 (CDC, 2014). In 2013, the total number of DUI arrests in the state was 162, 199 (Ticket Crushers, 2015). Fatal collisions accounted for 568 arrests, injury collisions for 11, 861 arrests, alcohol-involved fatal collisions for 1, 075 arrests, and alcohol-involved injury collisions for 16, 060 arrests (Ticket Crushers, 2015). Given that there are substantial ethnic differences in alcohol consumption, it is necessary to explore ethnic variations in DUI statistics.
A report issued by the University of California Traffic Safety Center reveals that there are disturbing patterns of RTAs in Hispanic communities of California (Cooper, Wilder, Lankina, Geyer, & Ragland, 2015). The report is a part of the Latino Traffic Safety Project the aim of which is to improve understanding of traffic safety in the Hispanic population of California. The population is expected to reach twenty million people by 2065 (Cooper et al., 2015).
The project analyzes the following elements of traffic safety in the population: DUI, seat belt use, child passenger safety, pedestrian safety, licensing, and community organization among others. It is projected that Hispanics will become a major ethnic group in California by 2020 (Cooper et al., 2015). This demographic shift implies that any existing traffic safety issues in the population might present significant challenges for the state.
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The findings of the report show that “drinking and driving are consistently cited as the most pressing traffic safety problem in Hispanic communities” (Cooper et al., 2015, p. 9). Given that males are at a higher risk of being involved in DUI, it is safe to assume that young Hispanic males are disproportionately presented in DUI arrest statistics. Indeed, the report confirms that the rate of DUI arrests is “the most pronounced among 21-to 30-year-olds” (Cooper et al., 2015, p. 9) Hispanic males.
The information presented in the report also provides some insights into ethnic discrepancies in DUI data. Specifically, the sale of alcohol to agricultural workers, the increase in the population of Hispanics during harvest seasons, and the lack of recreational opportunities for young Hispanic males are named as problems specific to rural communities of the state (Cooper et al., 2015). Taking into consideration the fact that these issues cannot be extrapolated to Northern California, it is necessary to find an independent variable that can be extended to the sub-area.
A recent study on the relationship between differences in the perception of risk for drinking and driving in California shows that more than nine percent of its participants did not perceive DUI a substantial traffic concern (MacLeod et al., 2017). Most importantly, the study reveals an important independent variable for high incident rates of traffic accidents—BAC.
It has been long recognized that the consumption of alcohol impairs the sensory and motor faculties of an individual. These faculties are critical for driving performance; therefore, their impairment can result in a higher risk of traffic accidents. A study on alcohol-impaired driving indicates that psychomotor faculties of a person are impaired to a great extent even by “the effects of low-to-moderate BACs (≤0.100%)” (Martin et al., 2013, p. 1242).
Even though there is no threshold effect for BAC impairment, it has been discovered that “BACs of 0.050% and higher can produce impairment of the major components of driver performance for most people” (Martin et al., 2013, p. 1247). Therefore, the National Transportation Safety Board has established this level of BAC as a limit for driving in the US (Fell & Voas, 2014).
There is a substantial discrepancy between self-reported DUI data and crash incidence data for Hispanics (Voas, Torres, Romano, & Lacey, 2012). In order to account for this discrepancy, the researcher assumes that Hispanics are less involved in DUI than other ethnicities and more involved in RTAs because the volume of alcohol they consume per occasion is higher than that for other ethnicities. This assumption is based on the findings of a study on alcohol consumption and economic losses. The study suggests that Hispanics are particularly vulnerable to “the negative effects of economic hardship on the development and/or maintenance of alcohol problems” (Zemore, Mulia, Jones-Webb, Huiguo, & Schmidt, 2013, p. 12).
Even though there are many studies that investigate relationships between variables such as age, gender, and socioeconomic characteristics of drivers involved in RTAs, to the researcher’s knowledge, the possibility that Hispanics in Northern California are at a higher risk for traffic accidents at higher BAC levels has not been explored.
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