Ken Little, Wilmington Star, June 22, 2006
Hispanic drivers involved in motor vehicle crashes are more likely to be intoxicated than members of other ethnic and racial groups, according to statistics compiled by state researchers.
The study by the Highway Safety Research Center at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill was based on information from law enforcement agencies. It states that 7.04 percent of Hispanic drivers involved in crashes in 2005 were intoxicated, compared with 4.87 percent of Native Americans, 2.82 percent of whites and 2.28 percent of blacks.
Hispanics “are more likely on average to be suspected of drinking in crashes that police officers investigate,” research center database specialist Eric Rodgman said.
Cultural differences and limited knowledge of U.S. laws might be driving the trend, law enforcement officials and community leaders said. Efforts are being made to develop education programs in the wake of recent high-profile fatal crashes.
The numbers encompass the entire Hispanic community, and officials say it is important to convey the message of responsible driving to all Spanish-speaking residents in North Carolina, regardless of their legal status and education level.
Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for all Hispanics living in North Carolina. Many come from countries where enforcement of drinking and driving laws is lax. Cultural differences must be bridged for any initiative to be effective, said Rex Gore, district attorney of Brunswick, Bladen and Columbus counties.
A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study found that Hispanics, particularly recent immigrants, are often distrustful of police and government agencies.
“There is a reluctance to go to the system. It’s being in a different country and not knowing if you fit in and feeling threatened by the whole atmosphere,” said Art Costantini, director of the Southeastern Center for Mental Health in Wilmington.