Does the race of a pedestrian determine whether a driver will stop to let them cross the street?
A joint preliminary study by researchers at the University of Arizona and Portland State University suggests that it is. The study -- which, it should be noted, had an extremely small sample size and was based in one city -- found that African-Americans had to wait in a crosswalk about 32 percent longer than white people before drivers stopped. The research also suggests that African-Americans are twice as likely to be passed by multiple vehicles.
The findings, co-authored by a University of Arizona transportation planning expert and two Portland State University students, were published in August in Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behavior. The researchers trained six participants -- three white, three black -- and had them stand at a crosswalk in downtown Portland, Oregon. Then researchers observed 88 trials, cataloguing how many cars passed without letting the pedestrian cross and how long it took for a driver to finally stop.
"Drivers were clearly displaying behaviors consistent with implicit racial bias," study co-author Arlie Adkins said. "It was not a very large study, so we weren't sure the amount of data collected would be enough to reach statistical significance, so we were surprised to see how quickly the significance showed up."
Tara Goddard, a doctoral candidate in urban studies at Portland State and co-author of the study, said the research has broader implications even though its sample size was so small and it only took place in one city. She, Adkins and co-author Kimberly Kahn received a $30,000 grant from the National Institute for Transportation and Community to expand on the study, and are putting the finishing touches on more comprehensive research on the subject.
The study wasn't meant to prove that drivers are "overtly racist," but that they could have implicit bias that leads to danger on the road, researchers said.
"The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reported that during a period that spanned 2000 to 2012, African-American and Hispanic male pedestrians were more than twice as likely than white men to die in traffic crashes," they write in the study.
Are those crashes caused by implicit bias?
"We’re not saying this is the missing link, but it's worth exploring," Goddard told The Huffington Post. "It’s likely happening at a subconscious level."