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Friday the 13th, Traffic Accidents, and Finland

Today is Friday the 13th, a day feared by the campers at Crystal Lake, as well as nonfictional humans around the world. (A quick diagnostic quiz: Do you fear Friday the 13th? Then you have paraskevidekatriaphobia. Fear the number 13? Then you have triskaidekaphobia. Fear everything? Ask Lucy van Pelt.) The origins of both parts of the superstition are unknown: the fear of Fridays is mentioned as far back as Geoffrey Chaucer, and the fear of thirteen has been found in several cultures and religions. But superstitions, silly as they are, have a way of changing people's behavior, so is Friday the 13th more dangerous?

Well, at one point, some Finns thought so: a 2002 study of fatal traffic accidents in Finland between 1971 and 1997, from Dr. Simo Näyhä of the University of Oulu in Finland, found that while men were no more statistically likely to die in a traffic accident on Friday the 13th versus other Fridays, women were almost 1.7 times more likely to be in a fatal accident. "An estimated 38% of traffic deaths involving women on this day were attributable to Friday the 13th itself." A possible cause, Näyhä suggested, was the higher incidence of anxiety disorders in Finnish women, given that some anti-anxiety medications have been found to "worsen driving performance." Two years later, though, Igor Radun and Heikki Summala, of the "Traffic Research Unit" (no, I'm not making that up), in the Department of Psychology at the University of Helsinki published their own study, looking at all traffic accidents (as opposed to only fatal ones) on Friday the 13ths between 1989-2002. They found, contrary to Näyhä, that neither gender was more likely to be involved in an accident on Friday the 13th, a conclusion that will do absolutely nothing to stop the prevalence of this superstition.