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Greater Risk Of Motor Vehicle Fatalities in Obese Individuals?

sharma-obesity-car-crashI have previously posted on the issue of motor vehicle injuries and obesity.

Now a study published by Dietrich Jehle and colleagues from the Buffalo School of Medicine, NY, in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, again reports greater fatality risk in individuals with moderate or severe obesity (20 and 60% higher, respectively).

The researchers looked at fatalaties in 155,584 drivers included in the 2000-2005 Fatality Analysis Reporting System stratified by body mass index.

Interestingly, fatality rates in people who were overweight (BMI 25 to <30) or slightly obese (BMI 30 to <35) was actually lower than in those with “normal weight” (BMI 18.5 to <25) or “underweight” (BMI

Thus, as the authors discuss, while a bit of extra fat may prove effective as “cushioning” in preventing more severe injuries, this effect is lost at higher weights.

This may have to do with more that just the excess body fat.

As the authors note:

“An obese driver is forced to sit closer in proximity to the steering column and has less time to reduce his or her increased momentum. Most manufacturers design and test vehicle interiors in accordance with the federal motor vehicle safety standards that use a 50th percentile (BMI, 24.3 kg/m2) male dummy. These designs may not be ideal for the more than one third of the US adult population that is obese.”

I’d certainly like to hear from my readers on what they think about excess weight an motor vehicle safety.

I look forward to your comments.

Edmonton, AB

ResearchBlogging.orgJehle D, Gemme S, & Jehle C (2012). Influence of obesity on mortality of drivers in severe motor vehicle crashes. The American journal of emergency medicine, 30 (1), 191-5 PMID: 21129887




  1. Interesting research. I missed your previous post on automobile accidents and obesity outcomes. I hope that the automobile industry is taking note of this and adjusting vehicle designs accordingly. This all seems so preventable.
    Between 2000 and 2005, the Crash Injury Research and Engineering Network
    study reviewed crash statistics of 1615 individuals more than 16 years of age. The
    study investigated what influence obesity would have on patients’ outcomes from
    motor-vehicle collisions. During their research, they found a pattern of higher incidence
    of thoracic, pelvic, and lower extremity injuries, and a lower incidence of
    head injuries.Similar injury patterns from motor-vehicle crashes were found in
    a retrospective report by Byrnes and colleagues.During their study, 1179 trauma
    patients more than 18 years of age were reviewed and they found an increase of
    extremity and pelvic fractures and pulmonary injuries in obese patients or who had
    a BMI greater than or equal to 35. Even though pulmonary injuries were more prevalent
    in the obese population, the occurrence of pneumothorax and intra-abdominal
    injuries were lower.Increased thoracic body mass or waist circumference typically
    seen in obese individuals may explain these patterns. This enlargement could
    provide some increased protection to intra-abdominal vital organs, however obese
    individuals will also have increased body fat that will increase the force in which
    the body contacts in a collision. The end result is usually dashboard and steering
    wheel injuries.
    Vanhoy,S N & Laidlow, VT (2009). Trauma in obese patients: implications for nursing practice. Crit Care Nurs Clin N Am. 377-389

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  2. As a morbidly obese individual, I’ve always wondered what would happen if the air bag went off. I suspect I’d have a lot of damage that a smaller person wouldn’t have.

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  3. I’m so close to the air bag I don’t think I would survice the bag.

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  4. I am sure that many obese people aside from having the steering wheel dangerously close to there stomach, also suffer from sleep apnea. I know before my WLS I could and have nodded off while driving.

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