For many years the number of people who die in the United States in car crashes has been dropping. Credit for the substantial decline is often given to improvements in vehicle engineering, road design, emergency room care and road safety laws. The problem is those improvements have not been universally shared in this country. That means that the drop in traffic fatalities has not been universally shared either.
New research published in the American Journal of Epidemiology finds that the largest drop in death rates have occurred among the most educated. For people 25 and older with less than a high school diploma, fatality rates have actually increased over time.
As explained by the Washington Post, its not that a college degree makes you a better driver. It is that the least-educated tend to live with a lot of other conditions that can make being on the roads more dangerous. They own cars that are older and have lower crash-test ratings. Those with less education are also likely to earn less and have less money for cars with advanced car safety features.
The researchers point out that the number of trauma centers has also declined in poor and rural communities, which could affect the health care people have access to after a collision. Poor places suffer from conditions that can make the roads themselves less safe.
The researchers also consider whether drunk driving and seat-belt use can help explain these inequities. Seat belt use has actually increased faster among the less-educated, so it is thought that socio-economic differences there are narrowing.
In 1995, the traffic death rates –adjusted for age, sex and race –were about 2.5 times higher for people at the bottom of the educational ladder than those at the top. By 2010, they were about 4.3 times higher. So even if it looks nationwide like our roads our getting safer, the inequality of traffic fatalities is getting worse.