Fat drivers are 80% more likely to die in a crash: Extra weight stops seat belts tightening properly
00:13 GMT, 22 January 2013
08:30 GMT, 22 January 2013
Obese drivers are more likely to die in car crashes than other motorists – with fat women most at risk, warn scientists.
Heavier people are up to 80 per cent more likely to die in an accident than drivers of a healthy weight, according to a new study. But the risk doubles for obese women, says research published in the Emergency Medicine Journal.
It found fat people are propelled further forward during a collision because their additional soft tissue prevents the seat belt tightening immediately against the bones of the pelvis.
Fat drivers are more than three times more likely to die in a car crash than whose of a healthy weight
US scientists carrying out the study said it may prompt doctors to advise obese patients about another potential benefit of weight loss.
Here, the AA said car manufacturers might want to look at safety features that could be added or adapted to protect the growing body of obese Britons.
Around one in four men and women is clinically obese – so fat it threatens their health.
In the study, the fatter the driver, the bigger the risk of death compared with someone of normal weight.
The study included 6,806 drivers involved in 3,403 collisions, of which 18 per cent were classified as obese, 33 per cent were overweight and 46 per cent had a healthy weight. Obesity is defined as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or above.
Having a BMI of 35 and over is morbidly obese – severely obese – while 45-plus is super obese.
BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by height in metres squared, although it may be misleading for sportsmen and women, and pregnant women.
The findings show those who were most obese, with a BMI of 40 and above, were 80 per cent more likely to die in an accident than drivers of a healthy weight.
Those who were severely obese (with a BMI of 35-39.9) were 51 per cent more likely to be killed in a crash, while the excess risk was 21 per cent for obese people with a BMI of 30-34.9.
Obese women were found to be at greater risk than men, with a BMI of 35 and over roughly doubling the risk of death compared with women of normal weight.
The biggest risk for men was a 75 per cent higher risk of death among the most obese, while underweight male drivers were also more likely to die in a collision than those of a healthy weight.
The heavier the driver, the bigger the risk of death in a crash
Two thirds of those studied were men, and almost one in three was aged between 16 and 24; one in three was not using a seat belt properly – lap or shoulder only, rather than both – and in half of cases, the airbag deployed.
Dr Tom Rice, Division of Environmental Sciences, Safe Transportation and Research Center, University of California at Berkeley, California, said the obesity epidemic meant car design should come under the microscope.
‘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’ he said.
‘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.
‘Education is needed to improve seat belt use among obese people. Clinical intervention could inform obese patients of the additional traffic injury risks and potential benefits of losing weight’ he added.
Collision research suggests the bodies of fat drivers are flung further forwards during a car crash than those of other motorists, according to the study.
It said ‘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.
‘The additional forward motion by cadavers was seen for the abdomen and lower extremities.’ But obese drivers may be more likely to have underlying health problems which could put them at higher risk in a road accident, added the researchers.
Edmund King, president of the AA, said broadly speaking cars were designed to cater for the average male occupant and the study findings suggested this could lead to disadvantages for fatter drivers.
The findings posed a dilemma about whether to improve safety features for the fattest, when this might cause problems for thinner drivers.
He said ‘We already advise smaller drivers to push their seat back further because of the air bag.
‘Obesity is a growing problem so we should be thinking about whether safety features are designed or adapted for those at the extreme’ he added.