Study: Obese drivers more likely to die from car accidents

Date Posted
Caleb Kimpel

As though there weren’t enough reasons to reach a healthier body weight, researchers from the University of California released a paper in this month’s edition of the Emergency Medicine Journal connecting obesity to fatal injuries during traffic collisions.

The study follows earlier investigations into the relationship between obesity and auto-accident deaths that indicate a “cushion effect” allows overweight individuals to move further forward before safety restraints stop their motion, possibly resulting in more frequent and more severe injuries.

Researchers investigated 3,403 collisions involving 6,806 drivers, and found that individuals with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 40 or over were 80 percent more likely to die in car accidents. Furthermore, the effect is seen across levels of obesity: Individuals with a BMI between 30 an 34.9 were 21% more likely to die in an accident, and those with a BMI between 35 and 40, 51% more likely to die from automotive accident injuries.

Body Mass Index

Estimated Risk Ratio







According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, transportation incidents are by far the most common cause of occupational death in the US, accounting for 1,890 — or 41% — of all occupational deaths in 2011. Of those, 512 deaths were in roadway collisions like those studied in this report.

“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.,” write Thomas Rice and Motao Zhu, the study’s authors.

The Centers for Disease Control classify 35.7% of U.S. adults as obese, with the proportion of obese Americans growing yearly.

Obesity is a BMI greater than or equal to 30. BMI is calculated by dividing an individual’s mass in kilograms by the square of their height in meters.

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