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Obese Drivers at Greater Risk of Fatalities in Car Accidents

Study says overweight drivers have less chance of surviving a crash and recommends using larger crash-test dummies.

By Douglas Newcomb May 8, 2012 1:56PM

Car Crash photo. Photo by Flikr/Tony OxborrowIf heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, stroke and other diseases caused by being overweight aren’t enough to encourage Americans to shed pounds, a new study says that obese drivers are also at a higher risk of dying in a severe automobile accident.


The study, posted online before upcoming publication in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, finds that a moderately obese driver faces a 21 percent increased risk of death in a severe automobile crash, while the risk of not surviving the crash increases to 56 percent for “morbidly obese” drivers.


The study, partially funded by the Federal Highway Administration, marks the first time the effect of body mass on crash outcome has been significantly factored into such evaluations. Drivers were grouped based on body mass index -- weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared -- into underweight, normal, overweight, slightly obese, moderately obese and morbidly obese categories. Surprisingly, underweight and normal-weight drivers were found to be at an even greater risk of dying than their counterparts carrying an extra 10 pounds.

"The severity and patterns of crash injuries depend on a complex interaction of biomechanical factors, including deceleration velocity at impact, seatbelt and airbag use, vehicle type and weight, and type of impact," said the primary author on the study, Dr. Dietrich Jehle, professor of emergency medicine at the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and at Erie County Medical Center.


Jehle and colleagues set out to investigate the relationship between driver body size and risk of crash-related fatality by analyzing data in the national Fatality Analysis Reporting System database. To be included in the database, a crash must involve, "a vehicle traveling on a roadway customarily open to the public and must result in the death of an occupant of a vehicle or a nonmotorist." From the 168,049 drivers in severe motor vehicle crashes entered in the database, 155,584 met the criteria for inclusion in the analysis. 

As a result of the study, Jehle concludes that body type should be part of the vehicle safety design process. To save more lives, he suggests extending the range of adjustable seats, as well as encouraging moderately and morbidly obese individuals to buy larger vehicles with more space between the seat and the steering column.


He also recommended that manufacturers design and test vehicle interiors with obese dummies, and testing with a 50-percentile (BMI 24.3) male dummy that better represents the average American man.


"Crash-test dummies have saved lives and provided invaluable data on how human bodies react to crashes,” Jehle said, "but they are designed to represent normal-weight individuals. If they represented our overweight American society, there could be further improvements in vehicle design that could decrease mortality. It would improve safety for the one-third of the U.S. population that is obese. For underweight and normal-weight individuals, placing airbags within the seatbelt also might be protective."


Jehle says he expects the issue to get worse for overweight drivers. "The rate of obesity is continuing to rise,” he says. “So it is imperative that car designs are modified to protect the obese population, and that crash tests are done using a full range of dummy sizes.”

[Source: InsideLine]

May 9, 2012 5:14AM
This is one more reason why you shouldn't eat at McDonald's every single day. Wanna survive your next car crash, cut down on the sodas and junk food, fattie!

Maybe you didn't read the part that said underweight and normal weight individuals are also at greater risk than someone slightly overweight.  Sounds like those people might want to swing through a McDonald's drive-thru more often based on your logic.  Or are you being intolerant and just attacking fat people?

May 8, 2012 3:59PM
This is one more reason why you shouldn't eat at McDonald's every single day. Wanna survive your next car crash, cut down on the sodas and junk food, fattie!
May 10, 2012 3:20AM
Nice comments here... what about people who are dealing with medical issues that can't help the situation? For instance cancer. I know some people are just plan lazy, but do not assume it's always the case. I for instance gained about 45# do to treatments for cancer and there is nothing you can do about it. In fact in my situation the weight gain has probably kept me alive longer since most cancer patients do not eat enough. So please don't make dumb a$$ comments without knowing the true situation.
May 11, 2012 10:48AM
Instead of using obese crash test dummies, how about educating the driving public to eat right and get fit so this isn't a problem for so many people?
May 10, 2012 2:21AM
Why bother to try to save the " one-third of the U.S. population that is obese" if they can't look after themselves in the first place? 
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