Supersize My Seatbelt: Usage Falls As Waistlines Grow

Usage of Seatbelts DeclinesThere is no denying that the obesity epidemic is a serious health issue throughout the nation. Deaths because of diabetes, heart disease, and several different types of cancer are often attributed to the increasing waistlines across the nation – but fatal car accidents? It may seem strange at first, but a recent study found that obese drivers are at a higher risk of being involved in a fatal car accident than normal-weight drivers. The reason is their inability to buckle up.

More about the study

The study comes from the University of California’s Safe Transportation Education and Research Center. The researchers performed an analysis of almost 200,000 fatal passenger vehicle crashes throughout the United States. The research was from a 12-year span (1996 to 2008) and found that normal-weight drivers were 66 percent more likely to be wearing a seatbelt than those drivers who were considered morbidly obese.

The data showed 57,491 car accidents, about 3,403 people involved in these accidents qualified as obese, half were a healthy weight, and a third were overweight. The determination was made based on BMI (Body Mass Index).

The researchers found that those with a BMI between 30 and 34 were 21 percent more likely to die in a car crash when compared to drivers of a healthy weight. The drivers and passengers with a BMI between 35 and 39.9 were at an even higher risk – 51 percent higher to be exact. Those drivers who qualify as morbidly obese (meaning that their BMI is at least 40) were 80 percent more likely to die in a car accident when compared to drivers or passengers of a normal weight.

Why are people not wearing their seatbelts?

It is important to remember that those who are considered morbidly obese are not ‘systematically against wearing seatbelts’, in many instances the seatbelts do not fit properly or are uncomfortable because of the person’s size. The lead author of the study even recommends that cars must be designed differently in order to make it easier for obese people to put their seatbelt on.

The current federal safety standards were set in the 1960s. During that time, the majority of Americans weighed significantly less. The standards that were implemented in the 1960s required seatbelts to be accommodating for men who weighed upwards of 215 pounds. Today many American adults (both male and female) far exceed that number.

The researchers also stated that during a car accident, the lower body of an obese person move forward much more before the seatbelt ever gets a chance to engage. This is due to the additional body mass and tissue that keeps the seatbelt from producing a tight fit. The pelvis moves forward while the upper body is held back more. This may contribute to serious injuries according to the researchers.

Change has to come to accommodate larger people

While it would be great if we could somehow undo or at least curb the obesity epidemic throughout the country, that does not appear to be a very realistic option. The car industry and lawmakers need to sit down and reevaluate the antiquated rules and regulations on the books. Until that happens, we may see the extreme gap in obese fatalities widen.

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