When European football causes road accidents in Asia

THE STAR – Days when high profile European football matches are played are associated with more traffic accidents in Asia than days when less popular matches are played, finds a study in the holiday issue of The BMJ.

One explanation may be that Asian drivers stay awake until the early hours of the morning to watch high profile football games and lose sleep as a result.

Football is viewed by more people worldwide than any other sport, but most high profile games are played in Europe.

This means that fans who live outside Europe must watch these games at odd local times owing to differences in time zones.

Asian fans are the most affected, as games scheduled to start at 8pm in Europe means fans in Beijing, Hong Kong and Singapore have to stay up until 4.30am to finish the game, while fans in Seoul and Tokyo have to stay up until 5.30am.

Given that sleep deprivation is associated with poor attention management, slower reaction times and impaired decision-making, one theory is that drivers are more likely to be involved in traffic accidents on days when high profile football games air early in the morning.

If true, this would have important policy implications, as traffic accidents can result in considerable economic and medical costs.

To test this idea, a team of researchers based in China, Singapore and the United States analysed close to two million traffic accidents among taxi drivers in Singapore and all drivers in Taiwan, together with 12,788 European club football games, over a seven-year period (2012-2018).

The popularity of a given match was determined according to the average market value of teams (a combined measure of players’ salaries).

With this metric, a game between Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur will be classified as popular, whereas a game between Burnley and Crystal Palace will be considered less popular.

After taking account of potentially influential factors such as driver age, gender and experience, weather conditions, time of year, and weekend versus weekday effects, the researchers found that days when high profile football games were aired also had higher than average traffic accidents in both Singapore and Taiwan.

For an approximate EUR135 million (MYR666 million) increase in average market value for matches played on a given day, around one extra accident would occur among Singapore taxi drivers. And for an approximate EUR8 million (MYR39.5 million) increase in average market value of matches, around one extra accident would occur among all drivers in Taiwan.

Based on these figures, the researchers estimate that football games may be responsible for at least 371 accidents a year among taxi drivers in Singapore (this figure is likely to be much larger across all drivers in Singapore) and around 41,000 accidents per year among the public in Taiwan.

In terms of annual economic losses, they estimate these to be more than EUR820,000 (MYR4 million) among Singapore taxi drivers and almost EUR14 million (MYR69 million) among drivers in Taiwan and insurance companies.

However, they stress that these figures should be interpreted with caution.