Think Twice Before You Vote and Drive

Sep 30, 2008 12:01pm

By Audrey Grayson, ABC News Medical Unit

Every New Year’s Eve I transform into Driving Miss Daisy out of the sheer awareness that my chances of getting in a car wreck are much higher than usual. From now on, I’ll undergo the same transformation every presidential Election Day as well … and you may want to do the same.

Driving fatalities in this country rise dramatically during presidential elections, according to a research letter released in today’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. And the increase in the number of these fatalities on Election Day even overshadows the increase in driving fatalities seen on holidays, such as New Year’s Eve and during other dangerous driving times, such as after the Super Bowl.

To make this determination, researchers from the University of Toronto examined government records of fatal car crashes from 1975 to 2006. They compared the number of fatal car crashes on U.S. presidential election Tuesdays (from Jimmy Carter in 1976 to George W. Bush in 2004) with driving fatalities from the Tuesday before election day and the Tuesday of the following week.

They found that on election Tuesdays, the U.S. averaged 13 fatalities per hour  compared with 11 fatalities per hour during nonelection Tuesdays. This accounted for an overall 18 percent increase in the number of fatal car crashes on election Tuesdays.

According to Dr. Donald Redelmeier, director of the clinical epidemiology unit at the University of Toronto, the increase in driving fatalities seen on U.S. presidential election days “greatly exceeded the risk of New Year’s Eve and Super Bowl Sunday.”

“The average Super Bowl is associated with an increase of seven more people in fatal motor vehicle crashes, so that makes election days about three times more dangerous than the Super Bowl,” Redelmeier explained.

Comparatively, New Year’s Eve is only associated with about three more fatal crashes than the national average.

There are several reasons Redelmeier suspects presidential election days could be more dangerous for drivers than holidays and big game days. For one, he posits that the public is simply less aware of the potential for added danger.

“This shows that public attitudes and awareness can really influence road safety,” Redelmeier said.

In addition, because of our heightened awareness of roadside safety on holidays such as New Year’s, the number of police officers patrolling the roads for drunken or reckless drivers increases exponentially. The same is not so on our election Tuesdays.

But we can all say from experience that adding even just one extra responsibility to our already loaded schedules can lead to speeding or other distractions.

Redelmeier also points out in his report that many of us are traveling to unfamiliar areas in order to cast our votes. This simple change in routine can lead to increased distractions and even heightened anxiety while driving, all of which could be contributing factors to the increase of fatal car crashes.

Although there are a few simple changes that might help bring down the number of fatal crashes during election days — such as increased presence of police officers and roadside patrolling, or the establishment of more automatic enforcement technologies such as video cameras at stop lights and photo radar — I think the one thing we can all do to help curb this phenomenon is to be aware of it.

With that said, this news won’t discourage me from showing up at the polls this year — but it might take me some extra time to (slowly, calmly) drive there. And I hope the same for you.

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