In a quirky published report from the BMJ, researchers found that days featuring high profile (popular) football matches in Europe were associated with more traffic accidents in Taiwan and Singapore than were days with lower profile football matches.
Although football enjoys global popularity, most high profile games are played in Europe. The top five most-watched leagues (the English Premier League, the Spanish La Liga, the French Ligue 1, the Bundesliga, and the Italian Serie A) are all European. The Champions League—generally considered the top club competition in the world—is contested by top-division European clubs, and more than half of the past 21 World Cup tournaments have been played in Europe.
This European dominance of the football market means that fans who reside outside of the European continent must watch these games at odd local times owing to differences in time zones. Asian fans are the most affected. If Manchester United, the most popular football club in 2018, is scheduled to play at 8 pm local time, fans in Beijing, Hong Kong, and Singapore will have to stay up until 4 30 am to finish the game, whereas fans in Seoul and Tokyo will have to stay up until 5 30 am.
Sleep deprivation is one clear outcome of staying up late to watch football games, which lead to a novel hypothesis: on days featuring high profile football matches in Europe, more traffic accidents should occur in other continents (most notably Asia, in which the time zone differences mean that the matches are played at typical sleep times). Given that sleep deprivation is associated with poor attention management, slower reaction times, and impaired decision making, the researchers suggested 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 finding would have important policy implications, as traffic accidents can result in considerable economic and medical costs.
In other words, the researchers predicted that as games aired early in the morning, the number of accidents that same day would be higher because people would be more sleep-deprived during the rest of the day.
The study was based on 41,538 traffic accidents involving taxis in Singapore and 1,814,320 traffic accidents in Taiwan, combined with 12,788 European club football games over a seven-year period. The source of the data was the largest taxi company in Singapore, with fine-grained traffic accident records in a three-year span and all traffic accident records in Taiwan in a six-year span.
The combined team salary cap of two teams playing each other was used as a proxy for the total popularity/market value of that match.
The data shows that for an approximate €134.74m increase in average market value for matches played on a given day, approximately one extra accident would occur among Singapore taxi drivers, and for an approximate €7.99m increase in the average market value of matches, approximately one extra accident would occur among all drivers in Taiwan. This association remained after control for weather conditions, time of the year, weekend versus weekday effects, driver demographics, and underlying temporal trends. It was also stronger for daytime traffic accidents than for nighttime traffic accidents, suggesting that the association between high profile football matches and traffic accidents cannot be attributed to nighttime celebration or attention deficits while watching and driving.
In summary. the analysis of traffic accidents in Taiwan and Singapore supported the hypothesis that days with high profile European football matches also have higher than average rates of traffic accidents in Asia. The possible explanation offered in support of these findings is that people in East Asia stay awake until the early hours of the morning to watch high profile football games.
The researchers emphasize that the data were correlational, which means that one cannot make causal claims.
As for my two cents, I offer two alternatives to traveling by car, at least in Singapore. The underground railway system in Singapore is world-class, and I would choose it over a car any day, even if there is not a high profile European football match. The other option is simply to walk to where you want to get to.
This study appears in the current BMJ Christmas edition, which tends to take a more light-hearted look at some o the unusual research project that gets conducted in the UK. I had previously written about avoiding surgery on your surgeon’s birthday.