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Understanding the odds

June 11, 2015
Every year, the National Safety Council (NSC) puts together a rather morbid yet important list laying out the ‘Odds of Dying’ Americans face from various causes.
Every year, the National Safety Council (NSC) puts together a rather morbid yet important list laying out the ‘Odds of Dying’ Americans face from various causes.

The group noted that this list of statistical averages – calculated using fatality data for the entire U.S. population – details the lifetime odds of dying from various causes of death; everything from lightning strikes and earthquakes to airplane crashes. 

So, want to know what cause poses the greatest risk to daily life and limb in the U.S.? The one above all others where the odds are not necessarily in your favor?

Of course, those of us in the business of transportation – and especially the trucking sector – already know the answer, don’t we?

Motor vehicle crashes.

“Americans worry about the wrong things,” noted Deborah Hersman, NSC’s president and CEO and former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

“For example, 865 times more people are killed in motor vehicle crashes than in commercial plane crashes,” she stressed. “While [the movie] San Andreas was No. 1 at the box office, earthquakes are very rare events. Knowing the real odds of dying can empower people to make better choices and result in longer lives.”

[It’s sort of like worrying more about running into your grandmother naked in the house versus fastening your seat belt every time you get into a car; though that “naked grandma” scenario can be extremely funny to contemplate.]

Here’s how NSC compared and contrasted some of the odds of death from common activities versus those that are “commonly feared” among Americans:

  • Your odds of dying are far, far higher in a motor vehicle crash (1 in 112) vs. a commercial airplane crash (1 in 96,566);
  • Overdosing on opioid prescription painkillers (1 in 234) vs. being electrocuted (1 in 12,200);
  • Death from simply falling (1 in 144) vs. dying in a “cataclysmic storm” such as a hurricane, tornado, etc. (1 in 6,780);
  • Being killed while as a passenger in a car (1 in 470) vs. dying from a lightning strike (1 in 164,968);
  • Dying from simply walking down or crossing a street (1 in 704) vs. a wasp, bee or hornet sting (1 in 55,764);
  • Dying from complications from surgical or medical care (1 in 1,532) vs. dying in an earthquake (1 in 179,965).
Simply put, NSC contends that – based on the data – wearing a seat belt, turning off cell phones and designating a sober driver vastly reduces the risk of dying in a car crash, while avoiding prescription painkillers in favor of safer alternatives will reduce the likelihood of a fatal overdose while eliminating the chance of succumbing to a lifetime of addiction.

NSC also compiles an annual list of states with the lowest and highest rates of unintentional injury-related deaths; a yearly compilation that provides some grim insights.

For example, Maryland notched the lowest rate of unintentional injury death for the second straight year, with 26.9 deaths per every 100,000 people – far below the national rate of 40.6.

By contrast, West Virginia has the highest rate of unintentional injury-related deaths for the third time in four years, with the Mountaineer state’s rate of 77.2 deaths per every 100,000 people largely fueled by overdoses from opioid prescription painkillers.

Unintentional injury deaths have overtaken strokes as the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S., to the point where someone dies every four minutes in in this country due to an unintentional injury, NSC’s Hersman noted.

Here’s how the states stack up in terms of the unintentional injury-related death rate:

States with the lowest rates:

States with the highest rates:

1.      Maryland (26.9)

2.      New York (28.4)

3.      California (28.7)

4.      District of Columbia (29.9)

5.      New Jersey (30.4)

6.      Illinois (32.4)

7.      Massachusetts (33.7)

8.      Virginia (34.7)

9.      Texas (36.7)

10.   Nebraska (36.8)

1.      West Virginia (77.2)

2.      New Mexico (64.3)

3.      Montana (61.0)

4.      Oklahoma (59.7)

5.      Kentucky (59.7)

6.      Mississippi (57.9)

7.      Wyoming (55.9)

8.      Alabama (55.4)

9.      Tennessee (54.5)

10.   Alaska (53.2)

Again – surprise, surprise – on a state-by-state basis, car crashes remain the leading cause of death for those aged 5 to 24. Poisonings, largely from opioid painkillers, account for most unintentional injury deaths among adults aged 25 to 64, NSC noted, while for adults aged 65 and older, falls are the leading cause of preventable death.

Things to keep in mind as the nation and the transportation industry alike focus on ways to improve safety across the land.

About the Author

Sean Kilcarr 1 | Senior Editor

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