Washington State has a robust population of Native American residents living both in and out of reservations. As with any statistically measurable group, driving to work and conducting errands is a normal part daily life for almost all Native Americans. However, it seems that this group as well as Native Alaskans tend to be killed in a car accident far more that of any other minority group in the United States.

Washington State is aggressively moving towards eliminating road deaths for good. Governor Chris Gregoire has introduced a program called Target Zero with the aim to eliminate car accident deaths on Washington Roads by 2030. One step in this daunting effort is to touch the most at risk groups.

One of the obstacles is that Washington Tribes may not have rules or laws that mimic the efforts of Target Zero in order for the program to be a 100% success. However, there has been a national call to raise awareness of this disparity in motorist death.

More Research = More Concern

New research from the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy, in a review of the evidence on risk factors and interventions addressing this disparity published in the January issue of Epidemiologic Reviews, has highlighted the fact that there needs to be more research and programs to address the elevated rate of motor vehicle-related deaths among American Indian and Alaska Native populations.


The research team conducted a systematic review of literature published over the past 20 years and found only peer-reviewed 7 studies across all academic sources and government agencies described the problem in any way and tested interventions.

“The small number of studies in the peer-reviewed literature is surprising given the enormous human and economic impact of motor vehicle-related deaths in this population,” said lead study author Keshia Pollack, PhD, MPH, an assistant professor with the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy, part of the Bloomberg School of Public Health. “If injury disparities are going to be eliminated, support for research and programs targeting those groups disproportionately impacted needs to be made more readily available.”

Researchers identified published studies in peer-reviewed Journals between 1990 and 2011. They also searched websites such as Indian Health Service (IHS), the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report and issues of the IHS Primary Care Provider, a journal devoted to IHS articles and tribal and urban Indian health care professional providers.

The study data found that, even though car accident deaths are declining overall in the U.S., deaths are highest among American Indian and Alaska Natives. According to the Center for Disease Control, car accidents are the leading cause of unintentional injury among Native Americans ages one to 44. Adult motor vehicle-related death rates for Native Americans are more than twice that of whites and almost twice that of African Americans and three times the rate for the Asian and Pacific Islander population – the population with the lowest rate.

The existing literature suggests that multiple risk factors involving behavior, policy, and environmental factors are behind the disparity. These include:

  • Living in rural communities – Statistically rural communities of any demographic have higher death rates over urban areas. This is due to speeding, lack of enforcement, and merging from rural roads to high speed highways.
  • Road conditions in rural areas and/or reservations – Directly related to availability to services such as road clearing, utility services, and emergency services in the event of an accident.
  • Availability of alcohol – Many Native American communities have lowered or eliminated the availability of alcohol, however, this does not curb the lowered or less stringent enforcement in some communities, which invariably lead to higher DUI related death rates.
  • Pedestrian involvement in crashes – Lack of proper sidewalks and crosswalks in many rural communities is a concern regardless of the demographic, but has translated into higher Native American death rates.
  • Lack traffic control devices – This is also a resource issue as flashing lights and traffic signals in rural areas can be expensive to put up and maintain.
  • Lack of artificial lighting – Like the lack of traffic devices this is a resource issue. Along state highways, proper lighting can be put up and maintained due to the power of state revenue, which may not be fully available to the reservation at the same level.

Researchers point out that frequency of pedestrian-related deaths is the one factor that is mentioned across all studies that they reviewed. The authors of the study were not able to identify any interventions implemented that specifically sought to improve pedestrian safety, however, there are many studies that suggest multiple affordable solutions.

“Studies like this give a bird’s-eye view on the problem,” said Pollack. “In addition to discovering gaps in the existing research and programs, we’re able to identify promising interventions worthy of replication. Priority should be given to interventions that combine multiple methods and use partnerships to change policy, the environment, and individual behavior.”

Seattle Car Accident Lawyer

One of the big parts of trying to achieve the lofty goals of Target Zero is to establish what is called a Traffic Safety Culture. This is defined as a culture that is aware that one of the biggest causes of death is road deaths and that this wholly preventable as long as a policy is in place to curb it. The Target Zero program has done that by providing a 4 pronged approach:

  • Education – Give drivers the information to make the best choices.
  • Enforcement – Use driver behavior data to help law-enforcement officers pinpoint locations with a high number of serious collisions.
  • Engineering – Use best practices to prevent or reduce the severity of collisions.
  • Emergency Medical Services – Provide high-quality and rapid emergency and medical response to injury collisions

By bolstering the funding and emphasizing the importance of these factors, Individuals may be safe drivers, but those who take their own lives in their hands by speeding, DUI, drowsy driving, and distracted driving need to recognize that they are putting everyone around them in danger, not just themselves and their passengers.

If you or someone you know has been injured in a car accident anywhere in Washington state, you need a skilled lawyer to deal with the insurance companies to assure you the best settlement. Call the Seattle car accident attorneys at Phillips Law Firm for a free consultation.