Friday, December 30, 2011

How nail-biters and blowouts influence traffic fatalities in association with competitive professional and collegiate sports

CPDDBLOG wishes you a Happy New Year 2012!

In follow up to prior posts on substance abuse during the holidays, New Year’s Day emergency room visits related to underage drinking, and the association between alcohol abuse and organized team sports, this post focuses on alcohol-related fatalities in association with high profile professional and collegiate sporting events. A number of such events including football playoff and bowl games are scheduled to occur over the next few weeks.

An article published by Wood and colleagues this month in the Journal of Consumer Research entitled “ The Bad Thing about Good Games: The Relationship between Close Sporting Events and Game-Day Traffic Fatalities”, reported what appears to be a remarkable link between the competitiveness of such sporting events and traffic fatalities.

The study analyzed data from 271 events including 7 Super Bowls (2001-2007), 37 NBA Finals games from 2001-2007, and 227 NCAA football and basketball high-stakes games taking place from 2001-2008, including regular season games involving teams with established rivalries as well as tournament games (e.g., the Bowl Championship Series and the Final Four). 

The study reported that highly competitive events (e.g., those either close in final score or those subjectively rated “close” by a panel of sports experts on a 5-point “closeness scale”) were more likely to be associated with more game-day traffic fatalities. Moreover, the associations were substantially enhanced when alcohol was involved. 

The phenomenon was quite localized such that game-day traffic fatalities (including alcohol-related fatalities) were not increased in losing team hometowns, but only in winning team hometowns and in game locations (where many winning team fans would be). Overall, the authors reported a 33% increase in risk for traffic fatalities at game locations and in winning team hometowns in association with “nail-biter” versus “blowout” games. 

The authors speculated that their findings may be related to changes in spectators’ testosterone levels, based on research showing that highly competitive sporting events increase and decrease testosterone levels in fans of winning and losing teams, respectively. They cited a study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence showing that higher testosterone levels can result in more aggressive behavior. If increased post-game testosterone levels lead to more aggressive game-day driving behavior, this could result in more fatal traffic accidents, especially in those consuming alcohol.

The effects of abrupt testosterone increases on driving performance remains to be characterized as the only study assessing effects of testosterone on driving simulator performance involved chronic testosterone administration, and it failed to detect any significant effects.

While the Wood et al. report has a number of limitations, it certainly suggests that additional studies should be undertaken to assess effects of close competitive sports matches on driving fatalities, to determine whether steps could be taken to reduce excess traffic deaths in association with sporting events. 

CPDDBLOG welcomes CPDD member's thoughts on this issue.

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