A team of researchers from the University of California and the University of West Virginia has found that obese drivers receive more severe injuries when involved in a car crash and are more likely to die as a result. They have published a paper describing their research in Emergency Medical Journal. In reporting on the team’s findings the Telegraph says that the results may lead to new designs for car interior’s to take into consideration the girth of the driver.
To come to these conclusions, the team analyzed data from the US Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) for the period 1996 to 2008. The database includes all traffic related fatalities that occur in the United States. For the purposes of their study, the team extracted accidents involving two vehicles and in which at least one of the driver’s involved was killed. The team then extracted data related to the accidents such as medical reports, driver license and even eyewitness accounts in news reports to determine the body size of those involved in the crashes. In all 57,491 met the criteria and were included in the study. To make comparisons, the researchers compared accidents that involved similar car types and scenarios, e.g. head on, t-boning, etc.
In analyzing their data, the team found that roughly 46 percent of all the drivers studied were of normal weight, while a third were overweight and 18 percent were obese. Two out of three of the drivers were male and on average a third of the drivers were not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident. In half of the accidents, the air bag deployed.
To gain a clear picture of the correlation between girth and death rates in collisions, the team created three levels of degree of being overweight – the higher the level number the more obese a person was. Level 1 drivers were found to be 21 percent more likely to die in a crash than normal weight people, level 2 drivers 51 percent and level 3 drivers, a whopping 80 percent more likely to die in an accident than a non-obese person.
The researchers don’t know why obese drivers are more at risk of injury and death due to a collision but speculate that thus far, it appears that the lower body of obese people is more amendable to moving forward during a crash regardless if a seatbelt is worn. That causes a delayed whiplash action, which results in the head moving forward after the airbag has deflated, causing the driver to collide with the steering wheel as if no airbag had been deployed.