Obese Drivers at Greater Risk

A recently released study has shown obese drivers to be at a greater risk of a car accident than average weight drivers. Seventy-eight percent more likely. A body mass index of over 30 is considered to be obese. The finding showed a rise in deaths among people who weighed more than average despite the considerable increase in commercial and personal vehicle safety technology. Study results indicated this increased risk is due to other health-related problems obese people have. It also raises the issue that auto safety technology is not equipped to accommodate heavier drivers. The finding alarmed government safety officials who noted the disturbing rise in American obesity will coincide with more fatal car crashes regardless of any safety measures.


Body mass index or BMI measure body fat in relation to height. It is used as an estimate to roughly judge the portion of the body that is fat. There are four established weight ranges when BMI is considered:

  • Underweight – Underweight people have a BMI of under 18.5
  • Normal Weight – Normal weight people have a BMI of between 18.5 and 24.9
  • Overweight – Overweight people have a BMI of between 25 and 29.9
  • Obese – Obese people have a BMI of over 30

Over thirty-six percent of the population in the United States are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Three hundred million people reside in the United States, 100 million have a BMI over 30 and at a higher risk for a car crash. Thirty to thirty-five percent of the state of Illinois is obese. Obesity is generally more prevalent in rural areas and smaller towns where healthy food is easily accessible. Urban areas have less healthy life options and more difficult access to fresh, healthy foods.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America’s Health conducted a study that warned that if eating habits did not change substantially, over 50% of adults will be obese by 2030. The study goes on to say in thirteen states obesity rates will hit the roof, reaching over 60% by 2030. Many well-known researchers contrarily point out this study accepts a straight projected growth in obesity when the CDC’s most recent statistics from 2010 showed rates were constant. Despite all projections, a there is a substantial effect on vehicle crash rates involving the obese.

A study was also done to evaluate the role of the obese in car accidents by the Safe Transportation and Research Center (SafeTREC). They are a research group connected with the University of California Berkeley. The study used information and data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as part of its Fatality Analysis Reporting System. Researchers studied 41,283 collisions with cars of all the same size. They cross-referenced the numbers with weight and height information from the victim’s driver’s license to find an estimate of the driver’s BMI. All data were then categorized according to BMI. The study was controlled for factors that could also cause death in a collision such as not wearing a seatbelt, driver’s sex, time and date of the accident, alcohol and drug use, type of collision and airbag deployment. The numbers showed that overweight and underweight people are killed in accidents at the same rate as average weight people. Obese people suffer a higher rate than all other weight drivers.

Car accident victims with a 30 to 34.9 body mass index have a 21% increase in fatal injury. Drivers with body mass indexes of 35 to 39.9 suffered an even greater increase of 51%. Drivers with a BMI over 40 incur an 81% rise in risk. The study also showed that obese women are more likely to die in a car accident than obese men. The increases were present even when seatbelts and airbag deployment were used.

The biggest point of the study is that current safety technology is not adequate for obese drivers. Car crash tests use dummies of normal weight and so the technology was never designed for obese drivers in the first place.

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