CHICAGO, IL --- Fleet managers might want to tell their drivers to be extra careful on the roads Nov. 4. That's because a new study suggests that traffic accidents spike on election days.
The study analyzes U.S. election day traffic deaths dating back to Jimmy Carter's 1976 win, the Associated Press reported. On average, 24 more people died in car crashes during voting hours on presidential election days than on other October and November Tuesdays. That amounts to an 18 percent increased risk of death. Moreover, compared with non-election days, an additional 800 people suffered disabling injuries.
The results were fairly consistent on all eight presidential election days that were analyzed, up to George W. Bush's victory over John Kerry in 2004.
"This is one of the most off-the-wall things I've ever read, but the science is good," Roy Lucke, senior scientist at Northwestern University's Center for Public Safety, told AP. He was not involved in the study, which appears in Journal of the American Medical Association.
The study's Canadian researchers offered these possible reasons for the spike in accidents: drivers rushing to get to polling places before or after work, driving on unfamiliar routes, and being distracted by thinking about the candidates.
Co-author Dr. Donald Redelmeier, a professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, said Canada would probably have similar results.
Redelmeier said he and co-researcher Robert Tibshirani, now at Stanford University, were partly motivated out of concern about public health implications of traffic accidents. They claim about 1 million deaths worldwide each year, including about 41,059 last year in the United States.
Anne McCartt, senior vice president for research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, called the study "a clever example of something that is commonly known in highway safety."
The researchers looked at traffic-related deaths during polling hours on presidential election days and the two Tuesdays before and afterward over 30 years. There were 3,417 total deaths, including 1,265 on election days. The election day average was 158, versus 134 on the other Tuesdays. The crashes involved drivers, passengers and pedestrians.
Redelmeier said the data don't indicate where drivers were going when crashes occurred, but that the increase during polling hours suggests they were voting-related.