clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

High-school dropouts are much more likely to die in traffic accidents than college grads

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Although US roads are generally getting safer, a new study shows that the benefits afforded by tighter laws, safer cars, and better driver education are not being felt by all sections of society. The study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, shows that as the number of educated people — those who graduated high school or college — dying in traffic accidents fell between 1995 and 2010, the number of people without a high school diploma killed on the country's roads actually increased.

In the case of high school graduates, figures dipped from more than three crash deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 1995 down to only around 2.4 in 2010. For college graduates, and those with some college experience, the number was even lower, falling to below one death for the same measure. But that figure was significantly higher for people who didn't finish high school. In 1995, just under five people who left high school before graduating died per 100 million vehicle miles. By 2010, that number had risen to 7.5 people. In the study's methodology, in 1995, the relative adjusted death rate of the least educated people was 2.4 times that of the most educated. By 2010, that rate had increased to 4.3 times.

In 1995, the death rate of the least educated was 2.4 times that of the most educated

The study concludes that while overall road accident death rates have declined from 1995 to 2010, "socioeconomic differences in MVA [motor vehicle accident] mortality have persisted or worsened over time." Society's least educated are typically paid less than high school or college graduates, a fact that means many are restricted to purchasing cheaper or older cars, with lower crash ratings, ailing systems, and outdated safety features. Modern cars are safer than ever — and self-driving cars may be safer still when they finally hit the market — but they're they preserve of the rich, who in turn, tend to come from the more educated echelons of US society.

By 2010, the death rate was 4.3 times

It's not just less well-educated drivers that are more at risk. One of the authors of the study, Sam Harper, noted that pedestrian deaths are more likely in areas of lower education. Harper says the US has "big differences in the quality of the residential environments that people have in terms of their risks of accidental death as pedestrians," with fewer traffic-calming measures such as speed bumps, and less access to crosswalks, stop signs, and even sidewalks. These areas typically also lack in hospitals and other trauma centers, forcing those injured in motor vehicle accidents to travel further to seek medical attention, causing delays that can increase their chance of death.

Modern cars like Tesla's recently unveiled Model X are some of the safest ever seen on the streets, but their prohibitive price means that for certain sections of society, they might as well be science fiction. While everyone will eventually benefit from the introduction of increasingly advanced vehicles, this study shows that rather than society keeping pace with the march of technology, the inequality gap is actually widening, leaving those at the bottom in more danger of death on the roads than they were 15 years before.