Dr. Michael Omidi – Obese At Higher Risk of Driving Fatality

January 23, 2013


With obesity becoming such a serious epidemic in the United States, Dr. Michael Omidi discusses the additional risks obesity poses including increased fatalities in vehicle collisions.

Of all the numerous health risks associated to obesity, the greater danger of being killed in a car crash isn’t one that is typically considered.  However, according to a study published in Emergency Medicine Journal, obese drivers might be at higher risk of suffering a fatality from a vehicle collision than drivers of normal weight.

Why Are Obese Drivers at an Increased Risk?

A new study researched more than 57,000 statistics from the United States Fatality Analysis Reporting System taken from 1996 to 2008.  Accidents that were analyzed were between vehicles that were approximately the same size. The authors determined that obese drivers (defined as having a body mass index of 30 or higher) were less secure wearing seatbelts than thin ones because their bodies are thrown farther during a collision before the seatbelts engaged.  The additional girth prevents seatbelts from fitting appropriately snugly around the pelvis.  In order for an obese driver (or an obese passenger) to get the full benefit of wearing a seat belt, the lap belt must be worn as low down as possible and pulled as firmly against the pelvis as possible.  Nevertheless, vehicles may have to alter their designs in order to accommodate large occupants with the proper safety and protection.

It was estimated that vehicle occupants with a body mass index of 30 had a 21 percent increased chance of death in a traffic collision; people with a BMI between 35 and 39 had a 51 percent higher chance of death and people with a BMI of 40 or higher had an 81 percent higher chance.

The United States has the highest percentage of obese adults of any nation in the developed world—more than 35 percent.  The increased risk in automobiles merely adds to the troubling health statistics.

Crash test dummies that represent adults are fairly uniform in terms of size and weight, and in order to fully understand how automobiles might protect vehicle occupants, larger dummies might have to be used.  Additionally, there should be more research dedicated to the design of seatbelts for different body types and shapes.

The fact that obese vehicle occupants are less likely to even wear seatbelts due to their size might also affect the statistics.  Large people tend to find seatbelts uncomfortable; particularly morbidly obese people.

Are Seat Belts Important in Preventing Fatalities?

Even with all of the new safety technologies that have been introduced into new model vehicles—airbags in the steering wheel, dashboard and doors, sensors, traction control and anti-lock brakes—seatbelts are still the most effective devices in the event of an accident.

Regardless of weight or size, or even the number of supplementary safety features with which a car is equipped, every driver and passenger must wear a seatbelt in order to reduce or even eliminate the possibility of injury.

By Dr. Michael Omidi
Michael Omidi is co-founder of Children’s Obesity Fund, an organization aimed at combating obesity.
Obese Drivers at Higher Risk of Fatality

Payne, Cathy: Study: Obese drivers more likely to die in crashes USA Today 1/21/2013 http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/01/21/obese-drivers-death-risk/1846475/

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