Social Justice in the Crosswalk

Dec 9, 2015
By Robyn Kwon

Robyn photo
Is walking across the crosswalks in Seattle more dangerous for certain people with different ethnic backgrounds?

During a summer observational field experiment, we tested the hypothesis to see if drivers’ behavior exposes racial or sex bias towards pedestrians. Our results found that White males had a shorter wait time and lower average number of vehicles that passed before a vehicle stopped compared to Black males. In addition, there were more first stop vehicles and a longer average distance for White males. Results for sex bias found that females had a lower average number of vehicles that passed before a vehicle stopped with a shorter wait time compared to males. Females also had a higher percentage of first stop vehicles but a shorter distance between where drivers stopped and where the pedestrian stood at the crosswalk.

Much like the Portland study also looking into Racial Bias in Driver Yielding Behavior at Crosswalks, data from both studies indicate that drivers were less likely to stop for Black pedestrians than for White pedestrians. White males had a shorter wait time, higher percentage for a first car stop and lower average number of vehicles that passed before a vehicle stopped compared to Black males. For the total wait time in the Portland study, Black pedestrians had to wait 2.39 seconds longer while this study illustrated that Black pedestrians had to wait 1.95 seconds longer. For yielding behavior based on first car stops, the Portland study stated that although results did not significantly differ by race, Black pedestrians were more than twice as likely as White pedestrians to have to wait for two or more vehicles.

This study demonstrates that black pedestrians have a 9% less likelihood for vehicles to stop when the first vehicle approaches than when compared to White pedestrians. Lastly, the average number of vehicles that passed before a Black pedestrian could safely cross was more than twice the average than for White pedestrians in the Portland study. In this study, Black pedestrians had .51 more cars pass before the pedestrian could safely cross the street. The data comparison between these two studies shows different magnitudes of racial bias. Nonetheless, both elucidate that racial bias is still prevalent today.

The different compliance rates illustrates racial and gender discrimination by drivers. Based off of this data, there are differences in compliance rates between both race and gender. Both data sets however, illustrate racial bias and sex bias is pervasive. Black males and males in general have a more difficult time safely crossing the road which affects their daily lives.  Decreasing racial bias in drivers’ behavior will lead to safer crosswalk experiences as well as improvement in overall public safety.

For more details on this study, please refer to the full text “Bias in Driver Yielding Behavior at Crosswalks.” This study was based on a similar study conducted in Portland that also showed bias.

Breakdown by race

pass before vehicle stopped black white

first car stopping percentage white black

average time before stop white black

average distance between car and ped black white

Breakdown by gender

# of vehicles passed before vehicles stopped male female

first car stopping percentage male female

average time before stop male female

average distance between car and ped male female