Hispanic drivers, as a whole, experience a disproportionately high
number of drunk-driving arrests and accidents — along with alcoholism,
drug abuse, “macho” attitudes and illiteracy key factors — according to
a long-overlooked federal study that shows car crashes are the third
leading cause of Hispanics’ deaths.

The report, released back in 1995 by the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration, says that while Hispanics comprised 9 percent of
the driving population, “21 percent of those arrested for
impaired-driving nationally were Hispanic.” They also are involved in
proportionately more crashes than whites or blacks, the study showed.

The 195-page document, “Highway Safety Needs of U.S. Hispanic
Communities,” was based on phone surveys and material submitted by over
100 agencies. Surveyed were Latino community leaders, focus groups,
alcoholism and drug-abuse experts, clerics, health and social workers
and law enforcement officers.

The study covered heavily Hispanic eastern, western and southwestern
regions of the country, and was further broken down for ethnic
subgroups: Mexican, Salvadoran, Guatemalan, Nicaraguan, Puerto Rican
and Cuban.

The study noted several factors in the high incidence of deaths and
injuries, most based on machismo, or “macho” cultural norms. These

  • drag racing.
  • “proving” one can drink and drive.
  • the combination of alcohol and illicit drugs.
  • the enforced silence of young males’ girlfriends.
  • the growing tendency of Latino girls to engage in the same
  • speeding and reckless driving.
  • inattention to or inability to read signs and signals.
  • the custom of gifting sons with powerful sports cars, which often
    end up demolished.
  • combining alcohol with illicit drugs and inhalants.

Collectively, these factors produce a grim harvest. Auto accidents
were number-three overall in the cause of death among Hispanics, the
study said, along with countless serious injuries.

Despite the study’s major breadth, scope and implications, Robin
Meyer, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Safety
Outreach chief, did not know of any media coverage of its findings.

Meyer added, though, that largely due to the study, NHTSA had rapidly
accelerated its safety and educational programs for Hispanics. One, in
Texas, was credited with reducing infant deaths. It stressed to mothers
the importance of “car-seating” babies rather than holding them.

But the federal official could not say if Hispanic-caused U.S. road
fatalities and injuries had declined since the study’s release.

The study found that accidents were the third-leading cause of
Hispanic deaths overall, the second-leading cause for 24 to 44-year-olds
and the chief killer of young people aged 17 to 24. The numbers grow
with the influx in the Hispanic population, it stressed, adding that the
group is growing at seven times the rate of the American population as a

The continuing rise in mortality, the NHTSA document concluded, “is a
matter of great concern and points to the need for intervention.”

David Walsh
is a freelance reporter living in Maryland.

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