Monday, October 6, 2008

Don't Vote and Drive

By Karl Vilacoba

Your odds of getting killed driving to the polls on Election Day are higher than New Year’s Eve or Super Bowl Sunday.

A new study of U.S. presidential election days from Jimmy Carter in 1976 to George W. Bush in 2004 found an across the board rise in fatal crashes during polling hours. The researchers compared the same hours on the Tuesdays immediately before and after the election days and found fatality rates were 18 percent higher.

Donald Redelmeier, a researcher form Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Ontario, Canada, and Stanford University statistician Robert Tibshirani hypothesized that the combination of the country’s reliance on auto travel and the mobilization of about 55 percent of the population to vote might lead to a rise in fatal motor vehicle crashes. Their investigation concluded that presidential election days averaged 24 fatalities and 800 serious injuries more than normal. The risk was reportedly bi-partisan, as crashes spiked regardless of whether a Democrat or a Republican was elected.

The study mentioned speed, distance, distraction, emotions, confusion over how to get to the polling station and unfit drivers taking to the roads as possible explanations. In a video interview on Sunnybrook’s website, Redelmeier also said rushing could play a part. “I think it’s more of a reflection of speeding to the polls, or away from the polls, or trying to jam one more thing into an already busy day,” said Redelmeier, also a professor of medicine at the University of Toronto.

The researchers suggest that election organizers stress the importance of safety when encouraging people to get out and vote. Other interventions worth considering might include subsidized public transportation, setting up polling places within walking distances, remote voting or stronger traffic enforcement on election days.

The full study was published in the Oct. 1 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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