Maryland Accident Lawyers: In Auto Accidents, Size Matters

It is well-known that obesity is statistically linked to increased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other major health problems. Now there is more bad news for those who struggle with their weight: A study of fatal car accidents released this year suggests overweight people may be more likely to die in auto collisions than people of average weight.

Researchers analyzed data from the U.S. Fatality Analysis Reporting System, looking at 3,403 auto collisions from 1996 to 2008 in which the vehicles were the same size and the impact of the crash killed one or both drivers. They divided the drivers into four categories based on their Body Mass Index (BMI): 3 percent were underweight, 46 percent were average weight, 33 percent were overweight and 18 percent were categorized as obese. They found the first three groups had roughly the same death rate in the accidents — but the obese group had significantly higher death rates. Within that group, they found the higher the BMI, the more likely a driver was to die from injuries sustained in the accident.

Specifically, the researchers reported:

  • Those with the highest obesity level (BMI of 40 or higher), were 80 percent more likely to die from the accident than average-weight drivers.
  • Obese women were at greater risk than obese men.
  • Underweight men were also more likely to die in a crash than men of average weight.

The reasons for the disparity are inconclusive, but there is some evidence that seat belts are less effective at restraining the obese because the extra soft tissue allows their bodies to move forward more before the seat belt engages.

While some observers saw the statistics as one more reason for the obese to lose weight, others saw them as a reason for automakers to change the way they design cars — and to consider the fact that crash-test dummies are generally patterned after people of average weight.

It also remains to be seen whether these findings could come into play in wrongful death lawsuits resulting from auto accidents. Contact the Maryland accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton, P.A. if you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident.