We're Too Fat For Our Cars
By gigabiting on January 22, 2013
It’s known to automakers as Plump My Ride.
A little wordplay from the MTV show Pimp My Ride inspired the industry’s nickname for the super-sized cars it builds to accommodate ever-fatter drivers. It’s not just larger interiors and bigger carseats. Grab handles above the doors have to be reinforced so they won’t pull off, and buttons need to be bigger for pudgy ‘sausage fingers.’ Those electrically-powered adjustable steering columns were developed because drivers were getting trapped behind the wheel, wedged in by their big bellies, and video back-up screens and blind spot detectors had to be added because necks are too thick for drivers to turn around and look.
There are major safety issues for fat drivers.
You might think that carrying extra weight would be an advantage in a crash, with the extra padding providing protection for bones and organs. In fact studies show that drivers with moderate obesity are at a 21% greater risk and drivers with morbid obesity are at a 56% greater risk of being killed in a car accident. Most car safety features are designed to protect an average-sized driver of 163 pounds. An overweight driver tends to be propelled further forward in a collision because seat belts don’t tighten properly against so much soft tissue and airbags don’t deploy in the right location.
Driving while obese has been compared with driving while intoxicated.
Overweight drivers are more likely to have underlying health problems that put them at higher risk for car accidents. A recent study found that 800,000 car accidents a year on American roads are caused by drivers with obesity-related sleep apnea. The reaction times of these drivers is even worse than that of drivers who are over the legal limit for alcohol.
All the extra weight has an environmental impact as well.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, for every additional 100 pounds a car carries its fuel economy drops by as much as 2 percent. Auto makers are busy cutting vehicle weight, using less steel and lighter plastic, as they monitor every ounce in a race toward the 2025 federal target of 54.5 miles per gallon. But it’s a seesaw battle with Americans gaining pounds as fast as the manufacturers are shedding them. It’s estimated that it takes an extra billion gallons of gasoline every year to haul around new weight gain.
The secret of the New York minute.
A surprising story was recently told by the New York City Department of Health: New Yorkers are living longer than most people in the country, and their life expectancy continues to increase at a rate faster than almost anywhere else. Since 1990, the average American has added about two and a half years to his life, while New Yorkers have added a stunning 6.2 years. New Yorkers also weigh less than their demographically identical suburban counterparts—10 pounds less among 40-year-old white men—with correspondingly lower rates of heart disease and cancer.
Health experts call it the ‘urban health advantage,’ and single out walking as a primary factor. New Yorkers walk more than the rest of us. The city demands it with its urban frenzy and streets that are hostile to cars but welcoming to pedestrians. And New Yorkers walk fast, jogging up and down subway station staircases and plowing through slow-moving tourists. New Yorkers are the nation’s fastest walkers, and rank eighth among the world’s quickest steppers.
Lose the car, lose the weight.
The message is clear. Do it for your health, your safety, and for the environment.
One car, 15 cup holders. Read about the Big Gulp lifestyle in Gigabiting’s How Big is Your Cupholder?
Gigabiting: where food meets culture and technology.
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