Unintentional and preventable injuries – which are typically dubbed “accidents” – led to a record high of 161,374 fatalities in 2016, according to National Safety Council (NSC) data analysis, making “accidents” the third leading cause of death in the U.S.
Based on its data, NSC said an American is accidentally injured every second and killed every three minutes by a “preventable” event, such as a drug overdose, a motor vehicle crash, a fall, a drowning, a choking incident or another preventable incident.
The group said a total of 14,803 more people died accidentally in 2016 than in 2015 – a 10% year-over-year increase and the largest single-year percent rise since 1936, and the largest two-year rise (over 18.6%) since 1903.
NSC noted that this “unprecedented spike” in accidental deaths has been fueled by the opioid crisis. Unintentional opioid overdose deaths totaled 37,814 from drugs including prescription opioid pain relievers, heroin, and illicitly-made fentanyl.
But a steep rise in motor vehicle fatalities is partially responsible for the spike in “accidental” deaths. NSC said final motor vehicle death numbers indicate fatalities increased 6.8% to 40,327 in 2016 – in step with the Council’s original estimate of 40,200 deaths, confirming that the final 2016 data marks a 14% increase in roadway deaths since 2014 – the largest two-year jump in 53 years.
“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,” noted Deborah Hersman, NSC’s president and CEO, in a statement.
“We know what to do to save lives, but collectively we have failed to prioritize safety at work, at home and on the road,” she added.
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, the group noted – adding that, unlike other causes of death, preventable injuries are a threat at every age.
In spite of the current increase in deaths, Americans are still safer than in the early 1900’s, NSC stressed. In 1903, the accidental standardized death rate was 99.4 per 100,000 people – 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, NSC noted.