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Do you make choices as to whom you  leave waiting in the crosswalk? 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015
posted by Douglas Keene

racial bias in crosswalkApparently yes, at least according to today’s researchers. And you likely will be somewhat taken aback by just which group you choose to make wait.

Researchers wanted to study whether the pedestrian’s race had anything to do with yielding behavior of motorists at crosswalks. They tested with 173 motorists and 6 trained male pedestrian-confederates (3 Black and 3 White) in Portland, Oregon. The confederate pedestrians were all about the same age, were trained to walk in the same way/speed, were dressed identically and each was easily racially identifiable. The crossings were done across three separate months and always at non-peak hours and with only the confederate-pedestrian in the crosswalk.

“Black pedestrians were passed by twice as many cars and experienced wait times that were 32% longer than for White pedestrians.”

And let’s keep in mind that this is in Portland, Oregon. Having spent quite a bit of time in this wonderful city, one of the things that is strikingly peculiar is that drivers are almost annoyingly prone to yielding to both other drivers and pedestrians. Locals joke about it. Yet this is another study about implicit bias and how our attitudes are uncomfortably reflected in things we do (like deciding whether or not to yield to a pedestrian) on a daily basis. The researchers describe the differences in how Black and White pedestrians were treated by drivers as “stark”.

They are certainly not alone in their findings. Previous research on implicit bias has shown minorities to be medically misdiagnosed in greater numbers, have more difficulty having their resumes seriously considered for jobs, and famously more trouble hailing a taxi.

The researchers think their results reflect the experience of micro-aggressions for the Black pedestrian. One might say it really isn’t that big of a deal but if you consider the time this adds on to a stroll across town—it becomes increasingly significant.  And as an indicator of anonymous racism (failure to acknowledge the pedestrian rights—or perhaps the mere existence— of a Black pedestrian trying to cross the street), this is about far more than cars and walkers. The researchers are now doing a followup project over the next 18 months (also in Portland) to examine the relationship of race and gender in pedestrians and drivers and also examining the influence of crosswalk design and street signage on yielding behavior.

Another motivator behind this work is the disparity in pedestrian injuries and fatalities:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports 4,735 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes in 2013, representing 14% of all traffic fatalities.

Between 2000 and 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that African-American and Hispanic males were more than twice as likely than white men to die in traffic crashes.

It is possible that, as people experience micro aggressions repeatedly, they might “force the right of way when cars are not stopping, potentially putting yourself into dangerous situations”?

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this work speaks to the need to carefully assess whether racial bias plays a role in how jurors respond to your case, and whether you, as an attorney, are prone to minimizing the needs or views of minority jurors. The research on classroom behavior (boys, as well as white people generally get called on to participate in discussions more often) supports this same pattern. In our work, we’ve found that when racial differences are present but non-salient, it can be particularly tricky to predict how racism emerges (to the detriment of the ethnic minority).

Despite popular sentiment—we clearly still have a long ways to go on how race influences us—especially when we are unaware.

Goddard, T., Kahn, K., & Adkins, A. (2015). Racial bias in driver yielding behavior at crosswalks Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, 33, 1-6 DOI: 10.1016/j.trf.2015.06.002

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