Washington, October 1 : A team of Canadian and American researchers has found that the risk of deaths from road accidents increases in the U.S. on presidential election days.
"We thought efforts that mobilize about 55 per cent of the population to vote, along with US reliance on motor vehicle travel, might result in increased fatal motor vehicle crashes during US presidential elections. Indeed, we found a significant increase in traffic deaths on election days," says Dr. Donald Redelmeier, staff physician at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, who led the study with Stanford University statistician Robert Tibshirani.
The researchers looked at all US presidential election days over the last 32 years, from Jimmy Carter in 1976 to George Bush in 2004, during the hours of polling. They also looked at the same hours on the Tuesday immediately before and immediately after as control days.
The study revealed that the average presidential election led to about 24 deaths from motor vehicle crashes.
Reasons for the increased risk included speed, distance, distraction, emotions, unfamiliar pathways travelling to polls, and the potential mobilization of unfit drivers.
"A four per cent increase in average driving speed would be sufficient by itself to account for the 18 per cent observed increase in fatal motor vehicle crashes," says Redelmeier.
"What these findings suggest is the immediate need for safety reminders by electioneers who encourage people to get out to vote. Good advice would be to avoid excess speed, alcohol, and other distractions as well as to ensure seatbelt use," add Redelmeier, also a professor of medicine at the University of Toronto.
Other interventions worth considering might include subsidized public transportation, voting centres within walking distances, tamper-proof remote voting, or more traffic enforcement on the day of election.
"In light of these findings, the US president owes a larger debt to the American people than is generally recognized" says Redelmeier.
The study has been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.