Obese Drivers Much Less Likely to Buckle Up, UB Researchers Find

Dietrich Jehle, MD, right, with resident.

Dietrich Jehle, MD, right, with resident

Published June 4, 2012

Obese drivers are far less likely to wear seatbelts than normal weight drivers, a UB study shows.

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“We found that the relationship between the amount of obesity and seatbelt use was linear: the more obese the driver, the less likely that seatbelts were used. ”
Dietrich Jehle, MD
Professor of Emergency Medicine

Findings indicate that morbidly obese drivers—those having a body mass index of 40 or more—are 67 percent less likely to buckle up.

Extra Weight Makes Seatbelt Difficult to Buckle

The UB researchers hypothesized that obese drivers have more difficulty buckling a standard seatbelt so are less likely to wear one than their normal weight counterparts.

“We found that the relationship between the amount of obesity and seatbelt use was linear: The more obese the driver, the less likely that seat belts were used,” says lead author Dietrich Jehle, MD, professor of emergency medicine and associate medical director at Erie County Medical Center.

The new findings come from the same UB researchers who in 2010 identified obesity as a risk factor for death in a study of more than 155,000 drivers in severe auto crashes.

In that study, they found that morbidly obese individuals are 56 percent more likely to die in a crash than normal weight individuals.

Need to Make Cars Safer for Obese Drivers

By not buckling up, drivers put themselves at greater risk of injury or death. Failure to wear a seatbelt delivers more force to the body much more quickly during motor vehicle crashes while also increasing the chance of being thrown from the car.

“The question is: What can we do to cars to make them safer for the obese?” Jehle asks, noting that one-third of the population is obese.

“How can we make it more likely for people, including the overweight or obese, to wear seatbelts?

These findings also raise questions about how best to conduct crash tests because crash test dummies reflect average weight individuals, Jehle notes.

Results Based on Fatality Analysis Reporting System

The UB researchers based their study on data in the national Fatality Analysis Reporting System of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which tracks motor vehicle crashes and numerous variables about the collisions, some of which are related to seatbelt use.

They looked at more than 336,000 drivers in severe car crashes where a death occurred, controlling for confounding variables.

The results of the study, titled “Obesity and Seatbelt Use,” were presented May 10 in Chicago at the annual meeting of the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine.