Obviously, auto accidents cause injury and death for too many Floridians. However, the death rate for adults in the American Indian/Alaska Native population is 1.5 higher than that of white or black people. Meanwhile, AI/AN children under a year old have an eight times greater chance of dying in a car accident than non-Hispanic white infants.
These statistics and others related to injuries in auto accidents are troubling. Since Florida is one of the 10 states with the largest number of AI/AN people, this problem is one that should concern those of us who live here.
What factors contribute to these troubling statistics? The failure to use restraints and alcohol use have both been found to be significant factors.
Studies have shown that a lack of child safety seat and seat belt use is a major factor. In fact, AI/AN children are less likely to be placed in child safety seats than those of other racial groups. In fact, 2013 data from the Bureau of Indian Affairs Indian Highway Safety Program and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that the overall rate of seat belt use on the 16 reservations studied was under 70 percent. Seat belt laws varied on these reservations. As would be expected, those without such laws have the lowest usage rates.
Driving under the influence has also been shown to be a factor in fatal car accidents among AI/AN people. In 2012, about 42 percent of fatal crashes involving AI/AN people were related to alcohol, compared to 31 percent for the overall population.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that tribes focus on enacting and enforcing laws to improve the use of restraints in cars. The CDC also suggests strict enforcement of the .08 legal limit for blood alcohol content for drivers on tribal roads.
A focus on safety is key for AI/AN teen drivers. Car accidents are the primary cause of unintentional injury death for AI/AN teens 19 and younger. The CDC has recommended that reservations have graduated licensing systems for young drivers.
Safety should be a paramount concern for all of us in Florida, whether we are driving on tribal roads or interstates. No matter how careful we are, however, we cannot ensure that our fellow drivers will be equally cautious. Anyone who suffers injury at the hands of another driver has the right to seek justice and compensation.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Tribal Road Safety: Get the Facts," accessed Aug. 27, 2015