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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 August, 2003, 23:52 GMT 00:52 UK
Accident risk for fat drivers
Heavy traffic
Fatter drivers may be more prone to fall asleep at the wheel
Overweight drivers are more than twice as likely to be killed or seriously injured in road accidents than thinner people, says new research.

The findings of international studies have prompted the motoring organisation the RAC Foundation to call for drivers to be more aware of the risks they are taking.

It also wants to see cars better designed to include safety features appropriate for larger people.

The RAC Foundation believes overweight people are more at risk because they may be more likely to fall asleep at the wheel, are more difficult to rescue from a crashed car and vehicles are not designed to accommodate larger drivers.

Generally, it would be fair to say that it comes down to the survival of the fittest
Edmund King, executive director, RAC Foundation

A study in Seattle, Washington, in the US, of 26,000 people involved in car crashes found people weighing between 100 and 119 kg were almost two-and-a-half times more likely to die than people weighing less than 60 kg.

Body mass index

The study also took into account body mass index (BMI) - a measure which relates weight to height.

People with a BMI of 35 to 39 (over 30 is obese) are more than twice as likely to die in a crash compared with people with a BMI of about 20.

A separate study of crash deaths and injuries in New Zealand over 10 years up to 1998 showed overweight drivers were twice as likely to be injured in road accidents as people of average size.

The research found thin people were less protected by body fat so had an increased risk of bone fractures, which could raise their injury rate.

RAC Foundation medical adviser Dr Tony Lavelle said overweight people were more prone to sleep disorders, such as sleep apnoea and therefore more likely to fall asleep at the wheel.

Seatbelts and air bags were designed for average-sized people and car interiors might not be suitably designed for heavier people.

Edmund King, executive director of the RAC Foundation, said: "Smarter design using different shapes of crash test dummies and use of technology could help to reduce the severity of injury for obese occupants."

But he said drivers had a responsibility to be aware of the risks.

"Generally, it would be fair to say that it comes down to the survival of the fittest as fitter occupants are more likely to survive a crash," he said.

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