Accidents are now #3 cause of death in America

January 18, 2018

Are many of us simply an accident statistic waiting to happen? Unintentional, preventable injuries—classified as accidents—claimed a record high 161,374 American lives in 2016, to become the third leading cause of death in the United States (after heart disease and cancer) for the first time ever, according to a report from the National Safety Council released on January 17.

In fact, in America, someone is accidentally injured every second and killed every three minutes by a preventable event.

Highest on the list in 2016, according to the council, were poisoning (58,335 deaths), motor vehicle accidents (40,327), falls (34,673) choking (4,829), drowning (3,786) and fire/flames/smoke (2,730).

Along with other nonspecific accidents, that led to a total of 14,803 more people who died unexpectedly during 2016 than in 2015— a 10% year-over-year increase.

This represents the largest single-year percentage rise since 1936, and the largest two-year rise (+18.6%, for 2015-2016) since 1903.

According to the NSC, the unprecedented spike has been greatly fueled by the opioid crisis. Unintentional opioid overdose deaths totaled 37,814 from drugs—including prescription opioid pain relievers, heroin, and illicitly made fentanyl.

NSC analysis of the data— tracked annually by the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control— also confirmed the council’s motor vehicle fatality estimate for 2016. Motor vehicle deaths rose 6.8% in 2016 — in step with the NSC’s  original estimate of 40,200 deaths. NSC can now confirm that the final 2016 data marks a 14% increase in roadway deaths since 2014 – the largest two-year jump in 53 years.

“Our complacency results in 442 deaths each day,” said NSC CEO Deborah A.P. Hersman. “For years our country has accepted unintentional injuries as an unavoidable reality. The truth is, there is no such thing as an accident. Every single one of these deaths was preventable. We know what to do to save lives, but collectively we have failed to prioritize safety at work, at home and on the road.”

Preventable deaths have been rising since 2009 after years of declines and plateaus, and they trail only heart disease and cancer when it comes to the number of lives lost annually. Unlike other causes of death, preventable injuries are a threat at every age.

Finally, there is just a bit of good news: We’re safer than we were a century ago: In 1903, the accidental standardized death rate was 99.4 per 100,000 population—twice as high as the current death rate of 47.2. However, the current death rate is 39% higher than the lowest recorded rate, 34.0, achieved in 1992.

Research contact: customerservice@nsc.org