Steps you can take to reduce vehicle fatalities involving your tribe
Tribal motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of unintentional injury or death for Native Americans, according to the CDC. In fact, among adults ages 20 years or more, motor vehicle-related death rates for Native Americans are more than twice that of non-Hispanic whites or blacks. Tribal leaders, the good news is that there are a number of proven strategies to help you reduce motor vehicle injuries and deaths within your community.
First, let’s review a few more sobering statistics provided by CDC:
- On average, 2 Native Americans are killed every day in motor vehicle crashes.
- Natives are injured or killed in motor vehicle crashes at much higher rates than other Americans.
- Natives have the highest alcohol-related motor vehicle death rates of all racial groups.
- Car seat, booster seat, and seat belt use rates are much lower than national rates. Fifty-six percent of occupants who died in motor vehicle crashes were not wearing seat belts at the time of the crash.
- In 2016, seatbelt use rates in 17 reservation communities ranged from a low of 49 percent to a high of 93 percent.
Who is most at risk?
Tribal motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of unintentional injury-related death among Native Americans 19 years and younger, higher than any other racial/ethnic group, says the CDC. Compared with non-Hispanic blacks and whites, this group has the highest injury-related death rates for vehicle accidents, pedestrian events and suicide. Rates for these causes are two to three times greater than rates for non-Hispanic whites the same age.
Native American males are at especially high risk. Compared with their female counterparts, non-Hispanic Native males aged 20 years and older are twice as likely to die from a vehicle crash and nearly four times more likely to die from pedestrian-related injury.
Why are the number of tribal motor vehicle crashes and fatalities so high?
Low seat belt use
Seventy percent of Native American passengers who died in motor vehicle crashes were not wearing a seat belt, compared with the national proportion of 48 percent, according to a 2015 DOT study.
The overall rate of seat belt use across 17 reservations is 77.7 percent, says a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs Indian Highway Safety Program. Seat belt use varies greatly across reservations, ranging from a low of 49 percent to a high of 92.6 percent.
Low child safety seat use
Native American child safety and booster seat use rates are much lower than that of other racial groups. In a study of six Northwest tribes, proper child safety restraint use among Native children ages 7 years and younger ranged from a low of 23 percent to a high of 79 percent. Compare those numbers to a nationwide study showing proper restraint use among children within the same age group ranging from a low of 63 percent to a high of 87 percent.
Native Americans also have a high prevalence of alcohol-impaired driving and the highest alcohol-related motor vehicle death rates among racial/ethnic populations. Nearly two thirds of motor vehicle deaths across 6 tribes during a recent six-year period were alcohol-impaired compared with the national proportion of 31 percent.
How can we reduce the number of tribal motor vehicle crashes and fatalities?
Thankfully, there are proven strategies to reduce crash-related injuries and deaths among members of tribal nations.
Tribal leaders are well aware of how these fatalities can be reduced; the issue is, what tactics will work best to encourage long-term adoption by tribal members? There are a number of proven and effective strategies to reduce motor vehicle crash-related injuries and deaths which include use of occupant restraints, primary enforcement seat belt laws, high visibility enforcement and blood alcohol concentration laws. The strategies outlined below, provided by CDC’s Safe Driving in Tribal Communities toolkit, can be successfully tailored to fit your tribal community. We recommend you download and review this helpful guide created by the CDC along with Indian Health Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
- At the tribal government level, proven measures to reduce alcohol-impaired driving include steps to:
- Fully enforce existing laws regarding drinking and driving, including
- Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 limit laws
- Minimum legal drinking age laws
- Zero tolerance laws for drivers younger than 21
- Conduct sobriety checkpoints, which can reduce alcohol-related crash deaths by 9 percent.
- Require ignition interlock use for people convicted of drinking and driving, starting with their first offense.
- Explore Community Guide supported strategies, such as incremental alcohol taxes, that may help reduce binge drinking.
Local health clinics can help by:
- Conducting screening and brief interventions for risky behaviors, such as using alcohol and drugs and driving while impaired.
- Talking with patients about drinking and driving, including
- Never drink and drive.
- Get a safe ride home or call a taxi if they drink.
- Don’t let friends drink and drive.
- Plan ahead when hosting a party where alcohol will be served. Offer alcohol-free beverages; ensure all guests leave with a sober driver.
- Consider Graduated driver licensing (GDL) systems designed to delay full licensure while allowing teens to get their initial driving experience under low-risk conditions. These programs have been shown to aid in reducing 38 percent of fatal crashes and 40 percent of injury crashes among 16-year-old drivers.
- Restrict nighttime driving for teens to no later than 10 p.m. for at least the first 6 months of licensed driving.
- Restrict vehicle passengers to no more than one during the first 6 months of a new driver’s licensed driving.
Seat belt use
Seat belt use reduces the risk for death and serious injury by about half.
- Tribal governments can enforce seat belt laws that cover everyone in the vehicle.
- Local health clinics can remind all patients about the importance of using a seat belt, whether they’re the driver or a passenger, and age- and size-appropriate child restraints for youngsters.
Child safety seats
Using child safety seats reduces the risk of death in passenger cars by 71 percent for infants and 54 percent for toddlers ages 1 to 4 years. Using a booster seat for children aged 4–8 years reduces the risk for serious injury by 45 percent versus just using a seat belt alone.
Image courtesy of the CDC Motor Vehicle Safety Toolkit for Tribal communities
- Tribal governments can provide education and incentives for using car seats and booster seats, working towards ensuring that all children through at least age 7 are properly buckled into an age- and size-appropriate safety seat.
- Local health clinics can remind all caregivers at each well-child check-up about the importance of using the correct car seat, booster seat or seatbelt, depending on the age and size of the child, and notifying the caregiver when it’s time to move the child up to the next size restraint.
Because every life is precious, we urge you to take these steps to reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities.