A 2010 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) entitled “Special Report on Race/Ethnicity and Impaired Driving” says that Latinos, particularly Hispanics, are overrepresented in DUI related incidents, including DUI fatalities. According to the report, Hispanics are more likely to drink and drive based on a number of factors. The report reviews and cites several studies in analyzing the factors that contribute to this statistic.
The first, and most alarming of the factors, is the perception of risk amongst Hispanics. One of the reviewed studies suggested that Hispanics are less likely to consider DUIs as a safety issue and more likely to believe their drunk driving will go unpunished. These perceptions, according to the report, are the result of a sense of machismo amongst males within the Hispanic/Latino culture. The report cites a 1995 NHTSA-sponsored study, “Hispanics might be motivated by the need to prove their manhood within the Latino culture: ‘Everyone thinks they can handle alcohol, especial men. Men take it very personally. They get defensive. Men don’t think they’re going to crash. They’re more concerned that cops will take away their license. It’s an image thing.”
Another factor that the report suggests might cause Hispanic/Latino overrepresentation in DUI related incidents is a lack of knowledge and understanding on DUI and DUI laws. This might be particularly true for immigrants who come from countries that do not strictly enforce DUI laws. The report cites a 2002 study by Ferguson, Burns, Fiorentino, William, and Garcia where Latino male drivers from Long Beach, CA were surveyed to determine if the overrepresentation of DUI related incidents was the result of lack of knowledge of DUIs and DUI laws or a disregard for them. The results showed that Mexican-American DUI offenders “vastly overestimated the number of drinks required to make them unsafe drivers (8 to 10 drinks).” The study also found that “fewer than half of Mexican-Americans were aware of the legal BAC limit in California (.08g/dL) compared with between 60 percent and 78 percent of Whites.”
Lastly, the report asserts that, in addition to the previously mentioned risk factors, fatal crashes are higher in rural areas. A 2005 NHTSA report is cited as stating, “considerably more crashes occur in rural areas than urban areas, and…rural crashes are more severe, cause greater injury, and pose a more difficult challenge to the highway safety community than do urban crashes.” This is due to the fact that people who live in urban areas are subject to greater road travel and higher vehicle speeds. The report continues, “It is therefore reasonable to expect minority drivers living in rural areas are at a higher risk for traffic –related injuries.”
Understandably, this is a controversial topic. As a Hispanic, I’m not sure how I feel about it. The notion that a male is more likely to drink to prove masculinity or “machismo” seems to bear some truth based on personal experiences. But is it an exclusively Hispanic cultural phenomenon? Are there studies on European culture? Given the fact that Hispanics and Latinos are of the largest growing minorities in the United States, it seems logical that the relative numbers will be higher.
Or is the NHTSA just feeding stereotypes?
What do you think?