PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A new study, led by a Portland State University associate professor, found whether a driver yields to a person in the crosswalk may be influenced by the pedestrian’s gender or race.

“More cars tended to pass our black male pedestrians in particular,” said Dr. Kimberly Kahn, who led the study. “And importantly, when we looked at where the cars were stopping — this is one of our more important findings — we saw that cars were more likely to stop closer to our black male and black female pedestrians, and stop further back for our white female and white male pedestrians.”

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Kahn and her team studied black and white female and male pedestrians at crosswalks at SE 14th and Belmont. They had all the pedestrians wear identical clothing while trying to cross the same crosswalk in an identical, trained manner.

The initial study, published in May 2014, found that black male pedestrians were passed by twice as many cars and waited about a third longer to cross than white males. The second part of the study explored social identify factors like race and gender and how the influenced drivers’ behavior in interactions with pedestrians at crosswalks.Some of the findings in the study include:

  • When categorized by gender, female pedestrians were more likely to have the first car stop for them than male pedestrians.
  • When categorized by race, white pedestrians were more likely to have the first car stop for them than black pedestrians.
  • Black men were more likely to have the most cars pass them before one stopped.
  • Drivers were more likely to stop their vehicles before the stop bar white pedestrians, but after the bar for black pedestrians — demonstrating an intrusion into the crossing space for black pedestrians.
People in a crosswalk on the campus of Portland State University, December 13, 2017 (KOIN)

Kahn said the study’s findings contain potential safety implications.

“We think that that has implications for pedestrian safety, and may help partially explain why we see disproportionate pedestrian fatalities based on pedestrians’ race. If cars are stopping closer to black pedestrians, that could have safety implications,” Kahn said.

She also said, “When stopping is perceived as discretionary, rather than mandatory, that’s where these types of biases are more likely to impact behavior.”

According to the findings, the differences in stopping behaviors could reflect drivers’ biases, which are impacting their decision making.

“It’s not necessarily that drivers are consciously seeing pedestrians and saying, ‘I’m not going to stop for this group compared to another.’ Instead, the situation tends to reflect implicit or less conscious biases. Particularly when there’s a lot of stimuli going on, in a fast-paced activity like driving with quick decisions; those are the conditions under which these subconscious, implicit biases are more likely to affect our behavior,” Kahn said.