Native American Road Safety Native American Road Safety
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Native American Road Safety

November is Native American Heritage Month. CDC’s Injury Center works with tribal nations to implement motor vehicle injury prevention programs. This month, learn about American Indian/Alaska Natives’ risks on the road and how CDC-funded programs are helping to improve road safety for Native Americans.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of unintentional injury for American Indian/Alaska Natives ages 1-44.

Did you know?

From 2003-2007, the five states with the highest motor vehicle-related death rate among American Indian/Alaska Natives aged 1-44 years were Wyoming (82 deaths per 100,000 population), South Dakota (77 per 100,000 population), Montana (66 per 100,000 population), North Dakota (66 per 100,000 population), and Arizona (53 per 100,000 population).

Motor vehicle-related death rates per 100,000 population—American Indian/Alaskan Natives aged 1-44 years, United States, 2003-2007.
Click for larger version (PDF)

*Rates based on 20 or fewer deaths are unreliable and therefore suppressed.

The Reality

Low rates of seat belt and child safety seat use, as well as a relatively high prevalence of alcohol-impaired driving, contribute to an increased risk of injury and death among American Indian/Alaska Native motorists. Consider that:

From 2003-2007, among infants less than one year of age, the overall motor vehicle–related death rate was highest among American Indian/Alaska Natives, approximately three times that of whites. Among American Indian/Alaska Natives adolescents aged 19 years and younger, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of injury-related death.

In 2006, American Indian/Alaska Natives had the highest percentage (48%) of alcohol-impaired driving fatalities among all racial/ethnic populations.

Thankfully, there are proven strategies and effective programs to reduce crash-related injuries and death among members of tribal nations.

Effective Tribal Programs

CDC’s Injury Center funded four tribes from 2004-2009 to tailor, implement, and evaluate evidence-based interventions to reduce motor vehicle-related injury and death in their communities. The following pilot programs were successful at increasing seat belt use, increasing child safety seat use, and decreasing alcohol-impaired driving:

The Tohono O’odham Nation (TON) passed a primary seat belt law in 2005. A primary seat belt law allows enforcement officers to ticket a driver for not wearing a seat belt, without any other traffic offense taking place. Efforts to support the law focused on increasing seat belt use on the reservation with a comprehensive media campaign and working with tribal police to enforce the new law. Driver seat belt use increased 47% and passenger seat belt use increased 62% from 2005 to 2008.

The Ho-Chunk Nation Motor Vehicle Prevention Program (MVPP) also set goals to increase seat belt use and child safety seat use. Through a number of activities—including partnering with local county police departments, implementing a comprehensive media campaign, and conducting targeted education and training for police officers— MVPP saw major improvements. From 2005 to 2009, driver seat belt use increased 38%, passenger seat belt use increased 94%, and child safety seat use increased from a baseline of 26% in 2005 to 76% in 2009.

The White Mountain Apache Tribe Motor Vehicle Injury Prevention Program has focused on increasing seat belt use and decreasing alcohol-impaired driving through the use of DUI sobriety checkpoints, enhanced police enforcement, and a comprehensive media campaign. In 2008 they conducted 24 sobriety checkpoints and stopped 13,408 vehicles. They also tracked rates of seat belt use among drivers and passengers and found that driver seat belt use increased from 13% to 54% and passenger seat belt use increased from 10% to 32% from 2004 to 2008.

The San Carlos Apache Tribe Motor Vehicle Injury Prevention Program has focused on reducing alcohol-impaired driving and increasing seat belt use among tribal members. Media campaigns, sobriety checkpoints, enhanced police enforcement, and local community events were all important components of their program. Since 2004, total DUI arrests have increased 52%, driver seat belt use has increased 46%, and motor vehicle crashes have decreased 29%. In 2007, the San Carlos Tribal Council passed a primary seat belt law and a .08 blood alcohol concentration (BAC) law.

Current Tribal Programs

CDC’s Injury Center is currently funding 8 new tribes from 2010-2014 to tailor and implement effective motor vehicle injury prevention strategies. Upon completion of the funding cycle, CDC will publish a best practice and lessons learned manual that can be used in tribal communities in the United States.

These tribes include:

Caddo Nation of Oklahoma California Rural Indian Health Board Colorado River Indian Tribes Hopi Tribe of Arizona Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium