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A recent study found that stressful days increase the risk of fatal (and non-fatal) car accidents. Excerpted from the Canadian Health Network website.
The study, led by Dr. Donald Redelmeier, an internal medicine specialist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, and reported by the Canadian Press on April 11, 2012, shows that particular dates are associated with an increase in traffic deaths. The study is published in this week’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Dr. Redelmeier’s group looked at a 30-year study of traffic accident in the United States. It found that the country’s mid-April tax deadline day is associated with an elevated risk of fatal crashes. The study found that Americans have a six per cent increased risk of dying on tax day—and a similar risk likely occurs on Canada’s tax deadline day, April 30, researchers say.
They found the same increase in risk both during the morning hours, the afternoon hours and the evening hours, prevailing for the whole day, and not just before midnight. That differs from Super Bowl Sunday where there’s a 41 per cent increased risk in the average number of road fatalities primarily within three hours following the game’s completion. Driver error contributes to about 93 per cent of such events.
“Stress is often speculated as a contributing factor in driver error, and yet stress is almost impossible to study in a scientific manner,” Redelmeier said. “Here, we were trying to pull out one particular form of stress.” Researchers aren’t clear on what factors are behind the bump-up in the chance of dying in a road accident on the final day for filing taxes. While one explanation is that stressful deadlines can lead to driver distraction and human error. Sleep deprivation and drinking alcohol could also play a role.
Redelmeier believes a similar level of risk applies to the spectrum of outcomes that can arise from collisions on roadways – from brain and spinal cord injuries to other kinds of physical trauma and property damage. And everyone, not just drivers, but passengers and pedestrians are also at risk.
“What that means is even if you as an individual have filed early, it doesn’t mean you’re immunized against the situation, because you live in a community of all sorts of other drivers out there,” he said. “The increase in risk on tax day included the passengers and pedestrians, which is a common theme of all of road trauma—bad driving imposes risks on other people.”
Redelmeier said no matter how much stress is being experienced, it’s critical that drivers remember to wear their seatbelts, obey the speed limit, restrict alcohol consumption and minimize distractions while behind the wheel. Almost every one of these fatal crashes could have been entirely avoided by a small change in driver behaviour. Basic safety practices should not be forgotten at times of stress.”
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