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  MARCH 08, 2013
Berkeley Study Shows Obese Drivers at Increased Risk in Car Crashes

Obese drivers are up to 78 percent more likely to die in a car crash than normal-weight drivers, according to a recent study from UC Berkeley’s Safe Transportation and Research Education Center (SafeTREC), a research center affiliated with the UC Berkeley School of Public Health and the Institute of Transportation Studies.

Given the rising rate of obesity in the U.S. population, the ability of passenger vehicles to protect overweight or obese occupants may have increasingly important public health implications, the researchers noted. “This study highlights yet another negative consequence of obesity,” said study coauthor Dr. Thomas Rice, a research epidemiologist with SafeTREC.

Researchers reviewed data on accidents recorded in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, managed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. They found that drivers with a BMI under 18 and those between 25 and 29.9 had death rates about the same as people of normal weight. But among the obese, the higher the BMI, the more likely a driver was to die in a crash.

Authors found these risks remained for drivers wearing seat belts and when the airbag deployed. While increased comorbidities are a probable contributor, researchers also suggest that “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.”

“Vehicle designers are teaching to the test –designing so that crash-test dummies do well,” said Rice. “But crash-test dummies are typically normal size adults and children. They’re not designed to account for our nation’s changing body types.”

The study was published online in the Emergency Medicine Journal.

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