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University of Arizona study finds drivers’ behavior depends on pedestrian skin tone

Pedestrians navigate across busy sidewalk. (Facevook/

PHOENIX — A new study from the University of Arizona and Portland State University found that the behavior of drivers toward pedestrians can depend on that pedestrian’s skin tone.

For the study, researchers had a group of white and black males, all of similar build and age and wearing the same clothing, individually cross the street at a marked crosswalk. Researchers then noted whether or not drivers would stop and allow them to cross.

Dr. Kimberly Kahn, a social psychologist at Portland State, said the racial differences in the study’s results were striking.

“Drivers were about twice as likely to not stop for black pedestrians compared to white pedestrians,” she said. “On average, black pedestrians waited about 32 percent longer each time they approached the crosswalk compared to white pedestrians.”

The study is not trying to prove that all drivers are racist, Kahn said, but is exploring the reason that driving behavior varies so intensely.

“We’re not saying that all drivers are racist,” she said. “What we’re seeing in this particular study is that drivers are behaving differently towards black and white pedestrians.”

Kahn said the study found that subconscious and implicit biases of the driver can influence driving behavior.

“We hold subconscious connections and stereotypes about different groups that can actually influence our behavior when we’re not actually aware of it,” she said.

The team said they were first interested in doing the study after reading national data that showed African-American and Hispanic male pedestrians were more than twice as likely then white men to die in traffic crashes between 2000 and 2012.

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