Exploring transportation safety on tribal lands


A residential road on the Leech Lake Reservation in Beltrami County, Minnesota. Photo: Guillermo Narváez

The fatality rate for motor vehicle crashes is higher for American Indians than for any other ethnic or racial group in the United States. Assistant professor Kathryn Quick and research associate Guillermo Narváez, researchers at the U of M’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, are exploring the issues associated with roadway safety on tribal lands.

In a project sponsored by the Roadway Safety Institute, Quick and Narváez are collaborating with American Indian communities to better understand and mitigate the transportation safety risks on tribal lands.

Quick and Narváez are focusing on gathering on-the-ground knowledge about the nature of roadway risks and options to improve safety on reservations in Minnesota.  The researchers are reviewing crash data, collaborating with the Advocacy Council on Tribal Transportation, and conducting interviews with key stakeholders. They have collaborative research agreements with four tribal governments: the Red Lake Band of Chippewa, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, and Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.

Preliminary findings suggest that tribal transportation safety problems may not be so different from rural safety problems, except for a much greater concern for pedestrian safety.

Many reservation residents, by choice or necessity, travel on foot in the roadway as a way to get around. However, people feel unsafe because of narrow road shoulders, poor lighting, vegetation, or wildlife. In addition, there are many concerns that drivers who are not from the reservation do not expect or anticipate pedestrians in some locations, as well as concerns about congestion and speeding by non-locals, especially during peak tourism periods.

Tribal transportation leaders have not mentioned alcohol-impaired driving as a top challenge, Quick said, which is a bit surprising given popular perceptions and some previous studies. “We will be continuing to probe that as we develop relationships and trust with them.”

The team has also heard themes around enforcement and how it’s key not just for supporting safety but also for reporting and monitoring safety issues.

Read the full article in the August issue of Catalyst.

Posted in Pedestrian, Rural transportation, Safety, Transportation research

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