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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

New Study Shows Crash-Related Deaths Increase on Presidential Election Days

Is Voting for President Bad For You?

A new study of Election Day traffic deaths dating back to Jimmy Carter's 1976 win suggests that voting for the president is bad for your health—but the analysts say that's no reason not to go to the polls.

The analysts discovered that on average, 24 more people died in car crashes during voting hours on presidential election days than on all other Tuesdays in October and November. That's an 18 percent increased risk of death. And an additional 800 people suffered disabling injuries when compared with non-election days.

Up to 2004, when George W. Bush defeated John Kerry, results were similar on all eight presidential Election Days that were analyzed.

Roy Lucke, senior scientist at Northwestern University's Center for Public Safety, said, "This is one of the most off-the-wall things I've ever read, but the science is good." Mr. Lucke did not take part in the study, which appeared recently in the American Medical Association Journal.

Among the possible reasons cited by the study's Canadian researchers were rushing to get to polling places before or after work, driving on unfamiliar routes, and thinking about the candidates to the point of distraction.

Although the researchers are Canadian, co-author Dr. Donald Redelmeier, a professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, said results would probably be the same in Canada. Although the population is smaller, Canada typically has a higher voter turnout than America, he said.

Redelmeier and co-researcher Robert Tibshirani, now at Stanford University, were motivated in part out of concern about public health implications of traffic accidents. Each year they claim about 1 million deaths around the world, including about 41,059 last year in the United States, which has one of the highest traffic death rates among industrialized countries.

Ellen Martin, a spokeswoman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said their analyses have found traffic deaths go up when more people are on the road, as during summer months, or during festive times of increased alcohol use, including Super Bowl Sunday and winter holidays.

The study is "a clever example of something that is commonly known in highway safety," said Anne McCartt, senior vice president for research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

She observed that there is no school on Election Day and stores often have special sales, which both can contribute to extra traffic.

The researchers analyzed the highway traffic safety agency's fatal crash data. The study examines traffic-related deaths during polling hours on presidential Election Days and the two Tuesdays before and afterward over 30 years.

Including 1,265 on election days, there were 3,417 total deaths. The Election Day average was 158, versus 134 on the other Tuesdays. Drivers, passengers and pedestrians were involved in the accidents.

The increase in number during polling hours suggests the crashes were voting-related, but Redelmeier said the data don't indicate where drivers were going when crashes occurred.

He said voters could easily avoid the risks by not speeding, wearing seat belts and avoiding alcohol use before driving to the polls and on the way home. Better traffic enforcement and setting up more polling places that voters can walk to are other solutions he suggested.

Redelmeier said, "We're not advocating a fatalistic attitude, nor are we saying people should refrain from voting. We are recommending more safety advocacy."

"Vote, but be careful," Lucke added.

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