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Study: Overweight Pedestrians Fare Better Immediately After Being Hit

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Never Be Too Careful (Pedestrians crossing sign)A medical study of injured pedestrians and cyclists in New York City finds that being overweight can help to save a person’s life when struck by a vehicle, as Matt Flegenheimer reports for The New York Times.

The study, published in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, was conducted by a team of trauma surgeons, emergency physicians, and researchers from NYU Langone Merical Center, whose research looked at more than 1,400 pedestrians and cyclists treated at Bellevue Medical Center after being hit in car accidents, Flegenheimer writes. As Alex Goldmark notes for TransportationNation (an independent public radio reporting project), pedestrians and cyclists who were hit by vehicles but did not go to the hospital, or who were killed, are not in the study.

Alarmingly, crosswalks and green traffic lights are not protecting pedestrians, who are most often hit when they are crossing with the light and in a crosswalk, according to the study. Flegenheimer writes that all results of the study “[…] combine to sketch a portrait of a New York where personal habits and choices — like listening to music, wearing a bicycle helmet or hailing a cab — can change a life.”

Lauren Evans writes for Gothamist:

Whereas skinny people snap like sticks from the mere kiss of bumper, thicker folks are more likely to deflect an accident. The report, obtained by the Times, says that it is ‘not implausible that a greater proportion of torso and extremity fat may protect against injury’ and that victims an above-normal body mass index were found to have less severe injuries. On the other hand, the study’s lead author did add that ‘generally, overweight and obese patients fared worse once admitted to a hospital.’

The New York Times reports that the study found that about 15% of pedestrians and 11% of cyclists 18 and older had consumed alcohol before being hit. And about 8% of both walkers and bike riders were injured while using an electronic device, including a cell phone or music player. Those percentages rose to 10% of pedestrians and almost 30% of cyclists for victims ages 7 to 17, Flegenheimer writes.

In addition, the study found that about 40% of injured cyclists were hit by taxis, as compared with 25% of pedestrians. Although more than 80% of those cyclists hit were riding in the direction of traffic, less than a third wore helmets.

Flegenheimer writes:

One harrowing take-away from the report is that no area, it seems, can be entirely safe. Six percent of pedestrians were injured while on a sidewalk. Of those injured on the street, 44 percent used a crosswalk, with the signal, compared with 23 percent who crossed midblock and 9 percent who crossed against the signal. The remaining injuries resulted from a variety of less frequent circumstances, like pedestrians standing in the road while waiting to cross, traffic officers being struck while policing a street, and travelers being hit while getting into or out of a vehicle.

Government officials said the report shows the need for more bike lanes, pedestrian plazas, and other “traffic-calming” measures.

As for Colorado, the state is developing its first-ever statewide bicycle and pedestrian plan, to improve bicycling and walking, with increased safety one of its goals. The CDOT Bike Ped Plan Final, adopted in October 2012, says that Colorado was ranked 20th in the country for bicycle accidents, with a fatality rate of 1.51 per 100,000 population.

However, that report notes: There is no measure of pedestrian exposure or bicyclist exposure that can be used across Colorado to determine crashes per mile traveled (or per trip, or per hour of exposure, etc.). But according to CDOT’s 2012 Problem Identification Report Draft, pedestrians comprised nearly 10% of Colorado’s traffic fatalities (44 of 446) and bicyclists represented nearly 2% of traffic fatalities (8 of 446) in 2011.

Image by mith17 (Mith Huang).

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