Racial Bias in Drivers' Yielding Behavior at Crosswalks: Understanding the Effect

Kimberly Kahn, Portland State University


This project explores social identity factors (race and gender) that influence drivers’ behavior in interactions with pedestrians at crosswalks. One dangerous potential point of conflict for pedestrians within the transportation system is interactions with drivers at crosswalks (NHTSA, 2009). In 2010, there was one crash-related pedestrian death every two hours and an injury every eight minutes, and racial minorities are disproportionately represented in these pedestrian fatalities (CDC, 2013). In light of this disparity, this project examines whether racial discrimination occurs at crosswalks, which may lead to disparate crossing experiences and disproportionate safety outcomes.

Racial minorities experience racial discrimination across various domains in society. Consistent with this societal pattern, it is hypothesized that drivers will exhibit racial bias when making decisions about whether or not to stop for pedestrians waiting to cross the street at a crosswalk, which may reflect conscious or nonconscious biases. Our initial research on this topic revealed the predicted racial bias in drivers’ yielding behavior at crosswalks: Black male pedestrians were passed by twice as many cars as, and waited 32% longer than, White male pedestrians (Goddard, Kahn and Adkins, 2015).

This study expands on these prior findings to examine the effect of additional pedestrian, driver, and crosswalk characteristics on drivers’ yielding behavior with pedestrians. Specifically, this study investigates the roles of 1) pedestrian race, 2) pedestrian gender, 3) crosswalk design (unmarked intersection crosswalk vs. marked crosswalk), and 4) drivers’ identity characteristics (male vs. female, White vs. minority) on drivers’ yielding behavior with pedestrians. A controlled field experiment in which Black and White male and female pedestrians crossed the street at two different types of crosswalks (unmarked vs. marked) was conducted, while trained coders marked drivers’ yielding behavior. Results indicated that overall stopping rates were very low at the unmarked crosswalk, and few differences emerged based on pedestrian race and gender. When the crosswalk became marked, stopping rates greatly increased; however, treatment was less equitable. Drivers were less likely to stop for Black and male pedestrians, and when they did stop, they were more likely to stop closer to Black male and Black female pedestrians. These effects occurred regardless of drivers’ race and gender. 

Project Details

Project Type:
Project Status:
End Date:
June 30,2017
UTC Grant Cycle:
Natl Round 2
UTC Funding: