Sudden death: Traffic fatalities among winning sports fans climb after close games, study shows
In the NCAA basketball tournament, there will be heroes and there will be goats. A last-second, buzzer-beating shot will transform Smalltown U. into Cinderella.
If a recent study is correct, Smalltown U.’s victory will lead to more traffic deaths in that community – giving a whole new meaning to March Madness.
Deaths in auto accidents double following a high-profile sporting event, such as the Final Four, where the outcome was determined in the final moments, according to research by professors and doctoral candidates from North Carolina State University and the University of South Carolina.
And here’s an interesting twist: Fans from the winning team of a closely played game were more likely to die in an auto accident than fans from the losing team, the study shows.
The study — “The Bad Thing about Good Games: The Relationship between Close Sporting Events and Game-Day Traffic Fatalities” — looked at traffic deaths following 271 high-profile college and professional football and basketball games from 2001 to 2008.
|Celebration soon can turn to tragedy after a sporting event, as a study shows winning fans die more often in post-game traffic accidents than losing fans do.|
Researchers examined the total number of deadly traffic accidents on the day of the game in three locations: the county where the game was played, the winner’s hometown and the loser’s hometown. They also determined whether the traffic deaths involved alcohol.
The researchers assigned a point value to each game, with one point for a game that was not very close and five points for a game that was really tight.
The researchers found that every one-point increase in a game’s closeness (on a scale of 1 to 5) would bump up by 12 percent the number of traffic deaths in the county where the game was played. Meanwhile, going from a blow-out game to a nail-biter boosted the number of traffic deaths by 133 percent where the game was played.
The researchers concluded that the spike in traffic deaths was connected to two things synonymous with many sporting events — booze and testosterone.
Of course, alcohol consumption at sporting events is as common as a basketball referee calling a foul. And the relationship between drunken driving and traffic deaths is well-documented. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drunken driving causes more than 10,000 traffic deaths a year.
Stacy Wood, one of the researchers, told InsuranceQuotes.com that previous studies have shown that during close games, testosterone levels rise among players on winning teams — and their fans — and continue to rise after the game, while testosterone levels drop among players and fans of losing teams.
“Testosterone is obviously linked to more aggressive behavior, more aggressive celebrating and driving — cutting in and out of traffic,” Wood says.
The higher testosterone levels and greater consumption of alcohol turned out to be a deadly duo, the researchers found.
“This is not to scare anybody,” Wood says. “At the very least, people should be aware of the little voice in their head to be careful.”
Fans leaving the stadium or arena of a winning team should consider hanging around before driving home so their testosterone (and blood alcohol) levels drop, Wood says, and stadium officials should encourage the post-game lingering.
By the way, North Carolina State, where Woods is a professor, was involved in one of the most famous close games in NCAA history, when its college basketball team upset the University of Houston on a last-second shot in the 1983 NCAA Final Four.
This irony wasn’t lost on Wood.
“North Carolina State certainly knows something about close games,” Wood says.