Is Voting Dangerous for Your Health?

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A couple years ago, we wrote a column called “Why Vote?” It didn’t advocate for people to not vote; it just argued that, because of the way the world works, there’s very little value in a single person’s voting.

But according to Donald Redelmeier, a professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, voting might actually be dangerous to your health.

How so?

In a research letter just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (gated), Redelmeier describes the research conducted by himself and a co-author, Robert J. Tibshirani:

We hypothesized that mobilizing approximately 50 percent to 55 percent of the population, along with U.S. reliance on motor-vehicle travel, might result in an increased number of fatal motor-vehicle crashes during U.S. presidential elections.

Here are some numbers:

A total of 3,417 individuals were involved in fatal crashes during the hours of polling on the 8 election Tuesdays and 16 comparison Tuesdays. The modal person was a young adult driving in a southern state (demographic characteristics generally stable over time). The 8 election days accounted for 1,265 individuals, equivalent to 158 per day, or 13 per hour. The 16 control days accounted for 2,152 individuals, equivalent to 134 per day or 11 per hour. This yielded a relative risk of 1.18 on election days (95 percent CI, 1.10-1.26; P< .001), equivalent to an absolute increase of 189 individuals over the study interval (95 percent CI, 104-280). The net increase in risk was about 24 individuals per election and was fairly stable across decades of time.

In a nutshell: A lot of people are out doing a lot of extra driving on Election Day — which, according to R. and T.’s research, produces extra motor-vehicle deaths. They offer some specific mechanisms:

… distraction (driver inattention), rerouting (unfamiliar pathways), enforcement (decreased police presence), and demographics (mobilizing unfit drivers).

Here’s one writeup of the study; Redelmeier was also featured on NPR.

Redelmeier wrote to tell us that our voting column helped inspire his research on Election Day fatalities. Furthermore, as he put it: “Behold! Chance of dying exceeds chance of casting a pivotal vote!”

If it’s really true that extra people die on Election Day because they’re in a hurry to get back to work from the polling place or whatnot, this is perhaps the most compelling reason yet to make Election Day a national holiday; or at least to switch to mail-in ballots.


Mike B.

It seems like common sense that there would be more accidents on election day because of all the old people voting. We know senior citizens love to vote and many of them have to drive to the polls. That's a disaster waiting to happen.

LuxuryYacht

By this logic, Australia (and other countries where voting is compulsory) should have a massive spike in deaths on election day. Around 98 per cent of the population makes its way to the polling booths. There is no such spike recorded in road safety statistics.

Wyatt

@hild

He could just have easily have broken his hip getting out of the car at the grocery store or to pump gas. To misconstrue causality to the degree that you are actually claiming that Voting is bad for your health is absurd, and an abuse of reason.

At least this man broke his hip knowing himself to be a dedicated and responsible citizen.

Moritz Schumpeter

Hey USA,

just do it like in Germany: Our votes are always on Sunday. Most people do not have to work and I can't remember anybody rushing into a polling place. Relax :-)

James B.

Elections like this one in November are too important to avoid just because one’s chances of getting in an accident is slightly higher on election day.

The chances that your vote will actually matter (i.e. your one vote will be the difference in a race that matters) is certainly less than that chances that you will be injured or killed coming to or going from the polls.

DJH

I suspect that leaving your house -- for ANY reason, not only to vote -- is dangerous. We could arrange to vote from home, and shop from home, and learn from home, and maybe even work from home ... but how many of us can get by, staying at home 24x7 and never leaving for any reason because it's dangerous?

Jeremy

In Australia elections are ALWAYS on weekends and voting is compulsory (well as compulsory as a $50 fine makes it). I always assumed that US elections are on weekdays to try to ensure that the poorest and most disenfranchised voters had the most difficulty in voting.

erik

Yesterday I read your article “Why Vote?”. Today while driving to work, I had the thought: what if automobiles were required to display the vehicle's MPG boldly on the back of vehicles? Everyone would be constantly reminded that a Hummer burns twice as much fuel as, say, a Focus. Would that act as a scarlet letter? Or would the relative anonymity afforded by tinted windows and the mobile nature of cars blunt the effect? What if you had to wear a lapel pin with your car’s mileage? Would people even comprehend that the difference between 10 and 20 mpg is not, in fact, the same as the difference between 30 and 40? What other social incentives are available to discourage conspicuous consumption of gasoline?

I realize this is only tenuously connected to the voting article, but I didn't know where else to put it.

hild

An eighty-something gentleman of my acqauintance was getting out of his car this spring to vote in a meaningless primary (a few local and state races, none closely contested) when he fell and broke his hip. His quality of life, and that of his wife and extended family, will never be as good again.

If only he'd been less committed to "always vote" and done a case-by-case anaylsis of whether it was worthwhile.

matt

making election day a national holiday would just mean that more people are going to use that as an excuse to party. more people partying means more people drinking. more people drinking means more drunks on the road.

Steve

If you walked, bicycled or took the train, you most likely will not be harmed in the voting process. This study should of pointed to the obvious conclusion that driving is bad for your health, not voting.

Valpey

I am all with Bobby G that online voting should be explored as a viable alternative to in person or absentee voting. The old arguments that online access disadvantages certain demographics is no longer valid with the overwhelming availability of internet access points in modern society.

I am still registered in the neighborhood I grew up in where I usually drive to my old elementary school (some 20 miles south of where I live) to cast my vote. While the nostalgia of the trip is fulfilling, it certainly makes no sense to be making the drive there. I'll readily concede that it is selfish of me (and possibly illegal?) to keep my registration such that I can affect the vote in my old school district. It is actually gas prices that have led me to switch to now becoming an absentee voter. I found this site convenient for that end: BeAbsentee.org

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Hamumu

I already registered to vote by mail! My only concern now is papercuts.

Steve

Didn't the Daily Show have a segment on this (about 4 years ago if I'm not mistaken)?

paulwesterberg

I just got back from a 3 week vacation of western Europe where I didn't need or want to use a car. Efficient affordable public transportation like that doesn't exist in the united states outside of a few big cities like NYC.

blue92

So the PSA should be "Vote AND Die" then?

paulwesterberg

Voting is dangerous because driving is dangerous and everyone must drive because public transportation is not available or inadequate, public transportation is poor because government is owned by special interests that favor oil, autos and roads, government officials are free to vote for more of the same because voters don't vote.

It seems to me that not voting can be dangerous.

Eric

The same argument could be made for any action that societal pressure pushes us towards. Let's say that next week McDonald's announces Free-French-Fry-Day. This would induce me (and probably lots of others) to drive out of my way to my local Mickydees and there would likely be increased accidents (and obesity, an externality for another discuss) compared to an average day too.

I think by choosing voting all that is being done here is cherry-picking something from the news cycle and trying to show that it is somehow bad for you. This is like Local News saying "Something in your house could kill you, we'll tell you what, right after this commercial break".

I know your larger point is that there are externalities to driving that we don't appreciate and account for in our day to day transactions, but going after something that is 100% a good and necessary thing like voting is misleading and only serves to distract from the real issue, reducing total automobile miles in the USA.

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Nick

Mail-in ballots? Internet, please! The only way to significantly increase US voter turnout without making it mandatory is to eliminate the "turnout" part and let voters stay home and do it.

Although that raises the question: do we really want the 50% of the population that isn't making the effort to vote now to be able to make a few simple, uninformed clicks from the comfort of their padded black desk chairs?

frankenduf

how do they know the people that died voted?- if not, the study is flawed and the conclusion is that not voting on election day increases chance of death