From Today's Knoxville News-Sentinel:
Crossing street can get you killed in South
Pedestrian deaths high in Dixie, especially among Hispanics
By GIOVANNA DELL'ORTO ASSOCIATED PRESS,
December 4, 2005
ATLANTA - Eriberta Mota crossed the unlit, four-lane highway with her two little boys so she could call home to Mexico from a nearby business. As the family crossed back with Mota holding her 18-month-old and grasping her 3-year-old's arm, a car hit them, killing the older boy and fracturing the skull of the younger.
This scene played out on a recent evening in the Atlanta suburb of Norcross, but such tragedies have become all too common across the South.
Since many Hispanic immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries have limited access to vehicles or public transportation, they walk where they need to go. At the same time, pedestrian infrastructure in the South is often lacking, officials say.
The result has been deadly, with Hispanics accounting for the highest rate of pedestrian fatalities across most of the region.
"You end up on the road because there's no side of the road you can walk on," said Stephanie Bohon, a University of Georgia demographer who studies immigrant issues. "These people are walking under hazardous conditions. They know they're taking a risk, but they haven't many other options."
In Georgia, it is estimated that nearly 80 percent of non-Hispanics drive to work, but only 34 percent to 58 percent of Hispanics do, Bohon said. Standing in the way for many are immigration-related issues, such as the difficulty of getting a driver's license, but also a more basic issue - poverty.
"It's more of a socioeconomic issue and lack of planning than a Latino issue," said Jerry Gonzalez, spokesman for the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials.
While that may be true, Hispanics are disproportionately victims across the South. They die in pedestrian-vehicle accidents at a higher rate than any other racial or ethnic group in every Southern state except Arkansas, Florida and Tennessee, where only blacks die at a higher rate, according to 2002 data reported by states to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The highest pedestrian fatality rates for Hispanics were in Mississippi with 4.72 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 Hispanics, Alabama with 4.71 per 100,000 and South Carolina with 4.62 per 100,000.
Nearly two out of every five pedestrian-vehicle deaths in the United States occur in the South.
Critics blame poor urban planning. As Southern cities and suburbs expanded rapidly in recent decades, planners have focused more on resolving traffic congestion and other growth issues than ensuring pedestrian safety, said Sally Flocks, president of Atlanta-based Pedestrians Educating Drivers on Safety.
"Northern cities are better designed for pedestrians because most boomed before vehicles became the main mode of transportation. That didn't happen in the South until after cars became dominant. Sidewalks then became an afterthought," Flocks said.
Experts say Hispanics are struck by vehicles at a higher rate because they tend to walk more than other demographic groups. Another factor is car culture. In Mexico and other countries where people have emigrated from, most communities are not built around traffic patterns like they are in the United States, so they aren't fully aware of the rules of the road.
Advocacy groups and government agencies, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, have distributed brochures, flyers, posters and radio public service announcements in Spanish aimed at educating Hispanic immigrants on U.S. pedestrian traffic rules.
Copyright 2005, KnoxNews. All Rights Reserved.