"It's clear that not wearing a seatbelt is associated with a higher chance of death," Dr. Jehle, a professor of emergency medicine at the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and associate medical director at Erie County Medical Center who was the study's lead author, said in a statement. "We hypothesized that obese drivers were less likely to wear seatbelts than their normal weight counterparts. Obese drivers may find it more difficult to buckle up a standard seatbelt."
The researchers identified 155,584 drivers in severe auto crashes in 2010 and found the morbidly obese individuals were 56 percent more likely to die in a crash than individuals of normal weight.
"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," Jehle said. "Not buckling up is, of course, a deadly decision -- it delivers more force to the body much more quickly while also increasing the chances of being thrown from the car."
The findings are scheduled to be presented May 10 at the annual meeting of the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine in Chicago.