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The Fatality Rate of California's Minorities

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NOVEMBER 01, 2023

The most recent statistics released by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) reveal that in 2021, there were 42,939 fatalities in motor vehicle crashes. The DOT estimates the annual economic cost of car crashes in the U.S. at around $340 billion.

Some of the main causes for the high crash and fatality rates are speeding, alcohol or drug impairment, and lack of seat belt use according to The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). 

Race and Ethnicity

Race and ethnicity data in crashes and fatalities reveals that fatality rates for non-Hispanic blacks, and non-white Hispanics are from 2.2 to 4.5 times higher than for Whites, the disparity is highest when walking or cycling. 

Race/Ethnicity analysis reported by the National Safety Council (NSC) concluded that fatalities among Hispanics or Latinos have increased consecutively for 10 years. Non-Hispanic fatalities consistently decreased for three years.

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) declared that it was evident, from research and review of that research, that people of color are disproportionately represented in fatal traffic accidents. The GHSA has also concluded from decades of research that many factors are included in the higher incidences of non-White crash and fatality rates including economic status, community engagement, infrastructure, and lack of safety prevention awareness.

California Statistics

The U.S. Census Bureau reports there are 39 million people in California which means a lot of people on the roads and highways. California’s Latino population is at around 39% but they have an 84% fatality rate as a pedestrian in comparison to non-Hispanic Whites. Non-Hispanic Blacks have a 236% higher pedestrian fatality rate than non-Hispanic Whites. An analysis of crash data shows that from 2016 to 2018 3,366 Latinos died in California car accidents.

California is one of the top five states for fatal accidents, responsible for 10% of national fatalities. Each year there are approximately 3,000 deaths and in 2019, half of those drivers killed tested positive for illegal drugs, according to The California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS).

Non-White Hispanics in California’s rural areas are more likely to suffer traffic fatalities than their urban counterparts according to the California Highway Patrol. Although Latino males have a higher incidence of traffic fatality than White males, Latina females have a lower rate of traffic fatality than White females.

The use of seat belts by both Latino and White drivers is about the same but non-Hispanic Black drivers seem less likely to buckle up according to the reported statistics.

California Safe Roads reported that in 2020, serious injury and fatality increased 38% on state highways and 40% in rural areas. Los Angeles saw 16,354 fatalities of all ethnicities while Redding experienced only 1,522 fatalities.

Alcohol and Distracted Driving

The 2022 data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that the percentage of alcohol-impaired driver fatalities were higher for Hispanic or Latino 36%, Black or African American 34%, and American Indian/Alaskan Native 57%, compared to White drivers 30%. 

Distracted Driving has become an epidemic on the road and one of the new leading causes of car crashes in the U.S. In a 2022 New York Times article, vehicle car crashes soared during the COVID-19 pandemic. Brain fog, speeding on empty, open roads, and the increase in alcohol and drug abuse since the beginning of the pandemic have all been cited as factors in crashes.

In California, for all drivers, the most often cited causes of car crashes, including fatalities:

  • Speeding
  • Alcohol/Drug Impairment
  • Drowsy/Distracted Driving
  • Tailgating
  • Aggressive/Reckless Driving
  • Lack of driving skill


Researchers note that both as drivers and pedestrians, minorities and people of color have higher incidences of crashes and fatalities across every state nationwide. Alcohol or drug impairment are leading factors but it seems that disparities in all areas of life also play a part.

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NOVEMBER 01, 2023