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Overweight? Why driving could be deadly

Published On: Dec 24 2013 02:02:08 AM CST
Updated On: Aug 15 2013 06:48:48 PM CDT
Car accident

jason conlon/SXC

By Attorney Jason Neufeld, Special to THELAW.TV

As if you needed another reason to shed those unwanted pounds around the waist, the Emergency Medicine Journal recently published a study indicating that, compared to thinner drivers and passengers, obesity increases the risk of dying in an auto accident.

The researchers used data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to compare car-accident fatalities to driver's license information that pertained to height and weight. Those drivers who were determined to be obese showed a significantly higher risk of death. They were 21 percent more likely to die in an auto accident if their Body Mass Index (BMI) score was between 30 and 34.9; 51 percent more likely to die with a BMI of 35 to 35.9; and there was an incredible 80 percent increase for those with a BMI of 40 or more.

The study also found that underweight males were 78 percent more likely to pass away than normal weight men. This finding was not seen in underweight women.

Obese men were more likely to die in front end and left side collisions. But obese women were at a greater risk of dying overall. In fact, those with a BMI of 40 or more were almost two times as likely to die in a car accident when compared with similarly overweight men.

Here's the suggested reason: additional fat (which is deposited differently in men compared to women) around the waist prevents the seat belt from tightening as quickly as it should, causing an unnecessary forward sliding motion. It is this extra forward sliding, at significant velocities, that increases the risk of fatality as a result of a car accident. The study also noted that obese people were likely to have other health complications that may have contributed to their death after the subject auto accident.

With one-third of the U.S. population estimated to be obese (almost 5 percent are "severely obese") the question remains: will auto manufacturers take these finding into consideration when designing their safety systems and will they be held liable for failing to do so?

My initial instinct is that it would be difficult to place blame on an auto manufacturer for an obesity-related death, especially if you have a liable/at-fault party who caused the car accident in the first place. With all the other bad things medicine has told us that are more likely to happen due to obesity (e.g. diabetes, hypertension, increased chance of heart attack, etc.), it would certainly be wise to see a doctor/nutritionist and get on an appropriate diet and work-out plan right away.

The author, Jason Neufeld, is an injury attorney Neufeld, Kleinberg & Pinkiert, PA.