Obese drivers are up to 80 percent more likely than those who aren't overweight to die in car accidents, according to a recent report, and researchers say inadequate and improperly positioned seat belts may be contributing factors.
Overweight drivers need to be more conscientious when buckling up and auto manufacturers should design cars that better protect obese passengers, says Thomas Rice, the report's co-author. He is a research epidemiologist with the University of California at Berkeley's Safe Transportation Research & Education Center. (See: " 6 New Year's resolutions that could lower your insurance rates.")
"It may be the case that vehicles are well designed to protect normal-weight vehicle occupants but are deficient in protecting overweight or obese occupants," according to Rice and co-author Motao Zhu, an assistant professor with the University of West Virginia Department of Epidemiology and Injury Control Research Center. Their study was published online Jan. 21 in the Emergency Medicine Journal.
The report, "Driver obesity and the risk of fatal injury during traffic collisions," underscored earlier research showing that seat belts don't always restrain obese people sufficiently, resulting in the body propelling farther during an impact. "It is critical that the lap belt be positioned as low as possible on the lap and as close to one's pelvis as possible," says Rice.The researchers studied accident data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) from 1996 to 2008. After analyzing 57,491 crashes, they cut the final pool to about 3,400 accidents resulting in deaths that involved two vehicles of similar size and type. Rice and Zhu say they found that the more obese you are -- based on the World Health Organization definitions, which is a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or higher -- the greater chance you have of dying in a collision:
- At the study's highest obesity level, 40 or higher BMI, drivers were 80 percent more likely to perish when compared to more normal-weight drivers.
- Those at the next level, 35 to 39.9 BMI, had a 51 percent more chance of dying.
- Those at the lowest level, BMI of 30 to 34.9, were 21 percent more likely to die.