AutoInsurance.com
January 17, 2023

Are COVID-19 Unvaccinated People Worse at Driving?

Unvaccinated people are 72 percent more likely to be involved in traffic crashes, according to a new study.

Two of the most polarized groups in the U.S. are those who are COVID-19-vaccinated and those who have not gotten vaccinated for whatever reason. A new study published in the American Journal of Medicine in December 2022 sought to determine if COVID vaccination — or a lack thereof — is associated with a higher risk of traffic crashes.

To find out, researchers studied 11.27 million people over a one-month period in Ontario, Canada, where vaccines became widely available in the spring of 2021. Of the study’s participants, 16 percent were unvaccinated, while 84 percent were vaccinated. During the month, there were 6,683 crashes among the participants who  required emergency medical care. So, what kind of correlation did there appear to be between vaccination status and driving behavior?

The Results

The study found that COVID vaccination hesitancy correlated with an increased risk of a traffic crash. This was true across all crash severities and vaccine manufacturers.

CheckNOTE:

For this study, the researchers used the World Health Organization’s definition of vaccine hesitancy, which is ”the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines”.1

COVID vaccination status bar graph

Although unvaccinated people made up only 16 percent of the study’s participants, they were involved in 25 percent of the traffic crashes during this time period, making them 72 percent more likely to be involved in crashes compared to vaccinated people.

The study divided the participants into multiple subgroups, determining the accident risk for the vaccinated versus unvaccinated in each subset. Across almost every demographic, the unvaccinated were more likely to get into car crashes. The one exception was adults 65 years of age and older, also known as senior drivers. But even after adjusting for home location, sex, age, socioeconomic status, and people who have certain medical diagnoses such as sleep apnea, which make crashes more likely, the unvaccinated were still 48 percent more likely to be involved in car crashes compared to the vaccinated.

Demographic Risk with vaccine per million Risk with no vaccine per million Risk of a car crash for unvaccinated vs. vaccinated people
18-39 701 1,198 71%
40-64 517 711 38%
65 and older 337 319 -5%
Men 619 1,168 89%
Women 449 651 45%
Urban home 530 913 72%
Rural home 537 899 67%
Higher socioeconomic status 513 815 59%
Middle socioeconomic status 506 840 66%
Lower socioeconomic status 564 1,011 79%
Alcoholism 1,616 2,293 42%
No alcoholism 526 901 71%
Sleep apnea 647 1,094 69%
No sleep apnea 524 903 72%
Diabetes 451 564 25%
No diabetes 540 934 73%
Depression 758 1,324 75%
No depression 498 843 69%
Dementia 184 868 372%
No dementia 536 912 70%
Hypertension 380 469 23%
No hypertension 550 943 71%
Cancer 451 638 41%
No cancer 536 923 72%
COVID infection 660 819 24%
No COVID infection 525 915 74%

In general, the study also noted that other certain groups were more likely to get into crashes, such as:

  • Younger adults. Younger adults have less driving experience on average, which is the reason the cost of auto insurance for teens is so high.
  • Men. Men pay more for car insurance due to their greater propensity toward at-fault car accidents.
  • People with lower socioeconomic status. The study saw the greatest divide between unvaccinated versus vaccinated people when looking at lower socioeconomic statuses.
  • People that misuse alcohol. Alcohol misuse is a substantial risk factor for traffic collisions, as people who misuse alcohol may drive under the influence (DUI).
  • People with sleep apnea and/or depression. Sleep apnea and depression are modest risk factors when it comes to traffic collisions.

However, people with diseases like sleep apnea and diabetes aren’t the cause of most traffic crashes. Rather, human behaviors like the ones listed below are more likely to cause accidents.

  • Disobeying a traffic signal
  • Failing to yield to a right-of-way
  • Impairment
  • Improper passing
  • Inattention
  • Speeding
  • Tailgating

CheckDID YOU KNOW?

In our teen speeding report, we found that 43 percent of teen drivers ages 16 to 18 sped, compared to 30 percent of the U.S. population across all age groups.2

The study’s researchers attributed these bad driving behaviors partially to a lack of:

  • Health consciousness
  • Safety mindedness
  • Community spirit
  • Other psychological characteristics like aggression, which can lead to road rage,3 although they acknowledged these characteristics are hard to measure systematically

Of course, even though the study found a correlation between being unvaccinated and a higher risk of getting in an accident, correlation doesn’t always mean causation.

Percentage of total crashes in the 1-month interval

Still, the researchers behind the report support safer driving and increased vaccination rates: “These data suggest that COVID vaccine hesitancy is associated with significant increased risks of a traffic crash. An awareness of these risks might help to encourage more COVID vaccination.”4

Citations

  1. Ten threats to global health in 2019. World Health Organization. (2019).
    https://www.who.int/news-room/spotlight/ten-threats-to-global-health-in-2019

  2. Teens and Speeding. Governors Highway Safety Association. (2021, Jan).
    https://www.ghsa.org/sites/default/files/2021-02/GHSA_TeenSpeeding_Feb16.pdf

  3. Analysis of factors influencing aggressive driver behavior and crash involvement. National Library of Medicine. (2021, Sep 7).
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34491872/

  4. COVID Vaccine Hesitancy and Risk of a Traffic Crash. The American Journal of Medicine. (2022, Dec 2).
    https://www.amjmed.com/article/S0002-9343(22)00822-1/fulltext