Have you ever unbuckled your seat belt mid-journey because it felt like the belt was cutting off your circulation? You’re not alone. A new study in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine has found that overweight drivers are neglecting to wear seat belts—and are consequently more likely to die in crashes than smaller drivers.

The study examined nearly 200,000 drivers who were involved in fatal auto accidents over a six-year period. What they found was an unsettling trend among larger drivers: obesity was directly linked to decreased seat belt use, as well as an increased number of overweight victims suffering fatal injuries as a result of a crash.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly a third of all Americans are considered medically overweight, and a further third are considered obese. In the study, obesity was determined using the driver’s body mass index (BMI), or a calculation of weight in relation to height. A BMI between 18.5 and 25 is considered normal weight; BMI between 25 and 30 is considered overweight; BMI over 30 but under 40 is obese, and BMI of 40 or higher is morbidly obese.

Facts to Consider Before Forgoing the Seat Belt on Your Next Journey

  • Researchers found that Americans with a normal BMI were 66 percent more likely to be wearing a seat belt than those who were overweight.
  • Individuals whose BMI was in the morbidly obese category were 56 percent more likely to die in vehicle crashes than people with a normal BMI.
  • The study data showed that the higher a victim’s BMI was, the less likely he or she was to have been wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash.
  • Combination lap and shoulder belts have been shown to cut down on crash fatality rates by 45 percent. However, they are only effective if drivers choose to wear them. If the belts are uncomfortable, many obese drivers may continue to flout the law.

The study’s authors pointed out that the federal law mandating seat belt use, which requires belts to accommodate men up to 215 pounds, was created in 1960s. While some car manufacturers provide seat belt extenders or optional longer belts, they are not required to provide larger seat belts to accommodate the modern American figure—leaving many New Jersey drivers to choose between comfort and breaking the law.

Do you think automakers should redesign the lengths of seat belts to accommodate larger passengers? Visit us on Facebook to weigh in on the conversation!

Manfred Ricciardelli
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