What’s true for the wealth gap is surprisingly true of traffic deaths – the rich are getting safer while the poor are getting left behind.

The Washington Post presented research by the National Center for Health Statistics today, explaining that there are hidden inequalities in the two common views we hold about car safety – that new cars are getting safer and traffic fatalities are dropping.

But these gains in safety are disproportionally for the rich and well educated.

If you want to read the full study it’s right here, titled “Trends in Socioeconomic Inequalities in Motor Vehicle Accident Deaths in the United States, 1995-2010,” which might sound boring on paper, but only if you yourself are pretty boring.

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The National Center for Health Statistics study looked at all miles traveled, including miles traveled on buses, trains, any other public transit, as well as on bike or foot. Here’s the key summation of the data by WaPo, explaining how the death rates aren’t just harsher for the poor compared to the rich, but that the gap is getting worse:

In 1995, these death rates — adjusted for age, sex and race — were about 2.5 times higher for people at the bottom of the education spectrum than those at the top. By 2010, they were about 4.3 times higher. That means the inequality of traffic fatalities is getting worse, even as it looks nationwide as if our roads are getting safer.

It makes sense that the poor and the poorly educated would be more likely to die in traffic, if you consider the circumstances in which they experience collisions. The safest cars are the most expensive, and the cheapest cars are the most dangerous. Rich people can afford to cocoon themselves in five star-rated Teslas while their gardeners and nannies and janitors are stuck in twenty-year-old Toyotas that would quiver in fear of today’s crash tests.

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Moreover, the study points out that car safety is only a part of this gap in fatalities. The poorer the community, the worse roads, the fewer pedestrian crossings, the more distant the hospitals.

It’s the widening of the gap between the safety of the rich and the safety of the poor that’s worrying. The car safety innovations of today will always trickle down to the economy cars of tomorrow. Car safety will always bias the rich who can afford the latest in safety developments.

But the gap is getting increasingly wide, and today’s traffic securities is getting increasingly distant from tomorrow’s poor.

Photo Credit: IIHS (2014 Corolla failing a new crash test pictured. The car was designed before the test was implemented, so the people buying it don’t get the kind of protection that anyone buying a newer, more expensive car enjoy.)


Contact the author at raphael@jalopnik.com.