The Super Bowl, professional football’s championship, is one of the most popular events in the world. Typically, the game has a television viewing audience in the United States alone of more than 130 million people.
At the same time, motor vehicle accidents are a leading cause of death around the world. The World Health Organization estimates that 1.2 million people are killed on the road every year and as many as 50 million more are injured. If present trends continue, the number of people killed and injured on the world’s roads will rise by more than 60 per cent between 2000 and 2020.
Is there a link between Super Bowl telecasts and fatal car crashes? Do fatal crashes increase immediately following a telecast? These are the questions that medical researchers Donald A. Redelmeier and Craig L. Stewart of the University of Toronto address in the current issue of Chance.
“The prototypical audience member for the Super Bowl is a young adult in good health, the same type of person who does not seek safety advice yet is overrepresented in fatal crashes,” Redelmeier and Stewart write. “We wondered whether the Super Bowl telecast might thereby provide fresh insights into both motor vehicle crashes and major television broadcasts.”
In many ways, Super Bowl Sunday is an unusual day. According to the American Snack Food Association, people consume three times more potato chips than they do during an average day in the United States. Major brewing companies report that all those chips are washed down by 10.5 million barrels of beer, versus consumption of just 0.6 million barrels on an average day.
To get road safety information, Redelmeier and Stewart delved into National Highway Traffic Safety Administration databases, which contain data going back to 1975 (http://www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/).
The analyzed data showed a total of 8,454 deaths in car crashes on 27 Super Bowl Sundays (from 1975 to 2001) and 54 “control” Sundays.
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The researchers observed no significant difference between Super Bowl Sundays and control Sundays during the hours before the Super Bowl telecast. An increase in fatalities following the telecast was evident for 21 of the 27 events. It amounted to a net increase for the entire day of 189 added deaths over the 27 years, or seven extra deaths per telecast.
“The relative increase in fatalities following the telecast was consistent for men and women; for individuals in younger and older age groups; and for those who were and were not drivers,” Redelmeier and Stewart report.
The analyses also showed that the increase in fatalities was particularly large during the first hour after the telecast. Moreover, alcohol was not the only factor contributing to the increase.
Interestingly, the result of a game had some impact on the statistics. The relative increase in deaths following the Super Bowl tended to be larger in states that had a team that competed and lost than in states that had no “home” team (or in which both contenders were from the same state). And the relative death toll was higher in neutral states than in states that were home to the winning team.
“The increase is consistent across the years, national in scope, large in magnitude, shared by people of differing characteristics, and evident also for nonfatal injuries,” Redelmeier and Stewart conclude. “Furthermore, the subgroup analysis suggested that the increase may relate to people being drunk, drowsy, or distracted.”
So, if you have to hit the road after the big game, be careful!
Puzzle of the Week
Place eight coins in a straight line (as shown above). A move consists of jumping a coin over exactly two coins (either in a row or stacked one on top of the other) in one direction and stopping on top of the next coin. How would you end up with four stacks of two coins each in four moves?
Courtesy of ThinkFun’s PuzzlePlayground (see http://www.puzzles.com/PuzzlePlayground/WelcomeToPuzzlePlayground.htm).
For the answer, go to http://www.sciencenewsforkids.org/articles/20050112/PuzzleZone.asp.