Health

Election Day Is Deadly

| Tue Sep. 30, 2008 10:27 PM EDT

441px-Accident_Nehoda_Uhersk%FD_Brod_2.jpg American presidential elections change the world. They also have a direct effect on public health. Fifty-five percent of the American population is mobilized to vote. Most rely on motor vehicles to get to a polling place. The result: an 18 percent increase in fatal motor vehicle crashes on presidential election day.

According to new research forthcoming in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the increased risk also extends to pedestrians. It persists across ages, sexes, regions, polling hours, and whether a Democrat or Republican is elected. Believe it or not, election day risks exceed those of Super Bowl Sunday and New Years Eve. Explanations: speed, distance, distraction, emotions, unfamiliar pathways to polls, and the potential mobilization of unfit drivers. (What about unfit candidates? Fear of them drives me faster to the polls.)

The investigators looked at all US presidential election days in the past 32 years, starting with Jimmy Carter. They also examined the Tuesday immediately before and immediately after election days as controls. The average presidential election leads to ~24 deaths from motor vehicle crashes. . . Talk about the ultimate sacrifice. All the more reason to make sure your candidate is really worth it.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.