Obese Drivers At Greater Risk Of Traffic Fatality Says Study
January 22, 2013

Obese Drivers Less Likely To Survive Traffic Accidents Says Study

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Any scenario involving the collision of two vehicles could have a deadly ending, and a new study from a pair of American researchers shows that obese people are at a greater risk of not surviving a violent accident.

According to the study, which appeared in the latest edition of Emergency Medicine Journal, obese individuals are 20 percent more likely to die as the result of being in a car accident compared to individuals with a healthy weight.

Some observers said the findings could impact future car design when it comes to greater protection for overweight individuals, especially considering that they comprise about one-third of all U.S. adults.

In their study, the researchers calculated the risk of death for obese drivers ages 16 and up by analyzing statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration´s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) from 1996 to 2008. They also used the World Health Organization (WHO) obesity standards as their guide.

The researchers combed through the details of over 57,000 road traffic collisions and refined their subject group down to almost 3,400 drivers for whom age, weight, seat belt use and airbag deployment data were available.

Almost 46 percent of the drivers in these accidents were normal weight, 33 percent were overweight, and 18 percent were obese. The analysis showed that the more obese the driver was, the greater the chance of death within 30 days of the accident.

''Findings from this study suggest that obese vehicle drivers are more likely to die from traffic collision-related injuries than non-obese occupants involved in the same collision,” researchers Thomas Rice and Motao Zhu wrote in their report.

A breakdown of the different statistics by WHO obesity category emphasized the fact that greater weight leads to greater risk. In obesity category I, drivers were 21 percent more likely to die. Level II drivers were 51 percent more likely to die and, and those at the scale´s highest end, level III, were 80 percent more likely to meet an untimely death than drivers of normal weight.

They also noted that obese persons could have been suffering from prior health conditions, like cardiovascular disease, which may tend to lower their chances for survival after a traffic accident.

The researchers theorized that the physical makeup of obese people could result in them being flung from the vehicle with greater force during an accident than those drivers who weighed less.

''Obese cadavers had significantly more forward movement away from the vehicle seat before the seat belt engaged the pelvis owing to additional soft tissue that prevents the belt from fitting close to the pelvis when the cadavers were in the driving position,” they wrote. ''The additional forward motion by cadavers was seen for the abdomen and lower extremities.''

The researchers also suggested in their report that changes to the way in which cars are engineered could result in lower fatality rates for heavier drivers.

“The ability of passenger vehicles to protect overweight or obese occupants may have increasingly important public health implications, given the continuing obesity epidemic in the U.S.A.,” they wrote.

''It may be the case that passenger vehicles are well designed to protect normal weight vehicle occupants but are deficient in protecting overweight or obese occupants.''