Obese women most likely to die from car accidents

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Important finding shows obese women most likely to die in car accident

Researchers are looking at obesity rates and especially how it relates to car design and deaths from collision. Results of a study, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), showed women who are obese are at highest risk of dying from a car accident compared to normal weight mean or women and even obese men.

The researchers suggest research is needed to find better ways to protect overweight and obese occupants of cars from death related to automobile accidents.

According to information from the study, one-third of Americans are overweight or obese. Investigators for the study looked at incidence of traffic fatalities from1996 to 2008, using data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

They researchers focused on vehicles with two passengers that involved the death of one or both of the occupants, comparing vehicles of similar size and shape.

One in three of the drivers or passengers were overweight and one in five of the victims were obese. One-third of those studied used their seat belt improperly and another 33 percent were between age 16 and 24. In more than half of the crashes the airbag failed to deploy.

For the analysis, 3,403 pairs of drivers were selected based on availability of information including weight, age, and seat belt use and airbag deployment.

The investigators used the World Health Organization classification of obesity that classifies severity of on a scale of I to III.


People with level I obesity were 21 percent more likely to die in a car accident; 51 percent more likely is obesity was level II and 80 percent more likely to perish for level III.

Obese women at even higher risk

When the researchers looked more closely, they found obese women at the highest risk of dying: At level I death risk was 36 percent more likely; at level II the chances more than doubled and at level III they were almost twice as likely to die.

"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 USA," the authors wrote in a press release.

“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.”

Researchers suggest obesity causes the lower body to propel further forward on impact during a car collision. The result is that the seat belt doesn’t engage the pelvis, but restrains the upper body.

The finding is especially important for women who should be extra cautious driving, given the higher chance of dying in a car accident, found in the study.


Image credit: Morguefile