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Tue Sep 30, 2008 4:09pm
CHICAGO (Reuters) - The days on which U.S. presidential elections are held every four years are hazardous -- and not just for politicians.

It turns out that more people die in traffic accidents on those days than comparable days one week before and one week later, according to a study published on Tuesday.

Reasons for the jump in fatalities could range from increased traffic and distracted or unfit drivers on the road to people traveling unfamiliar routes or simply being in a hurry, Dr. Donald Redelmeier of the University of Toronto and Robert Tibshirani of Stanford University said.

"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 more fatal election day crashes, the authors said.

By law presidential elections occur on the Tuesday following the first Monday in November. This year's election will take place on Tuesday Nov 4.

The research team looked at U.S. traffic-related deaths starting with Jimmy Carter's election to the White House in 1976 and ending with President George Bush's re-election in 2004.

On the eight election Tuesdays, a total of 1,265 people -- drivers, passengers or pedestrians -- were killed during the hours that polls were open, equivalent to 158 per day or 13 per hour. On the 16 Tuesdays a week before and a week after election day, 2,152 people were killed in the same time span -- equivalent to 134 per day or 11 per hour.

The researchers, who wrote about their research in a letter to this week's Journal of the American Medical Association, said it was likely the same effect "could extend to crashes of lesser severity so that on average U.S. presidential elections might also result in hundreds of additional individuals with nonfatal injuries."

The election day hazard is nonpartisan, the researchers said, being the same whether a Republican or a Democrat was elected. It is also, they said, worse than an already documented increase in traffic accidents that occurs on Super Bowl Sundays.

(Reporting by Michael Conlon; editing by Maggie Fox)

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