Accidental Injury Now a Leading Cause of Death in the U.S.

by Terry Bryant

Americans set a record for “accidental” deaths in 2016 for the second straight year, continuing a general upward trend over the past several years. According to the National Safety Council (NSC), 161,374 suffered a needless (preventable) death. This makes accidents the third leading cause of death in the United States for the first time in recorded history, according to the NSC. Preventable accidents now trail only heart disease and cancer as the leading cause of death in the U.S.

When crunching those numbers, we find that an American is killed every three minutes by some event that is likely preventable, such as a vehicle crash, someone’s carelessness at work, a slip-and-fall in a shopping mall or some other premises, an accidental drowning, or an unintentional drug overdose or some other pharmacy error.

The Most Worrisome: Drug Overdoses and Vehicle Wrecks

Almost 15,000 more Americans of all ages died accidentally in 2016 than in 2015. This year’s 161,000+ represents a 10% rise over the previous year’s 146,571, the greatest single-year increase since 1936; and when combined with 2015’s number of accidental deaths, it was the largest two-year increase (18.6%) in more than 110 years. A large share of accidental deaths was caused by drug overdoses, which probably comes as little surprise in light of today’s opioid crisis. There were 37,814 inadvertent deaths in 2016 from prescription opioid pain relievers, heroin, and unlawfully-manufactured fentanyl. Some sad truths about opioid overdoses can be found in the NSC data.

  • Each day, 52 people die from opioids.
  • Around 5% of prescription pain killer abusers will transition to heroin.
  • In the 25- to 34-year-old demographic, men (5,429) are about two-and-a-half times more likely to die from drug poisoning than women (2,223).
  • Around 70% of the people interviewed who abused prescription painkillers said they got them from friends or relatives.

In 2016, deaths in motor vehicle crashes rose 6.8%, to 40,327. This 14% increase barely exceeded the NSC’s projected number at the beginning of the year – 40,200 deaths. The final 2016 number represents a 14% increase in traffic deaths since 2014. And when combined with the 2015 vehicle crash mortality rate, the total of 70,627 represents the largest two-year vehicle accident deaths spike since 1964-65.

On-the-Job Accidents

A total of 5,190 fatal work injuries were reported in the U.S. in 2016. This was a 7% increase over 2015’s fatal work accident total, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). It was the third consecutive increase and the first year that  fatalities exceeded 5,000. Fatal work injuries from falls, slips, or trips and overdoses from the non-medical use of drugs or alcohol while on the job both continued a general upward trend in 2016.

If you have any questions about accidental death, or your family has recently lost a loved one to an accident that was caused by someone’s negligence, we are at your service. Call us at (800) 444-5000 or send us a note using our contact form.