If you get killed, who will kill you?
Let’s start this off by saying that if you die for some reason other than old age or illness then statistically you are not going to be murdered. Overall, if you die of injuries, you are going to die in a car. It shouldn't come as a surprise that activities you engage in frequently are more likely to end up going horribly wrong. Cars are very dangerous, but we use them every day. We hurtle along at speeds far in excess of what our bodies can withstand in metal contraptions weighing thousands of pounds. We are driving in various states of competence, experience, and impairment with thousands of other people of varying rates of competence, experience, and impairment. These heavy metal contraptions we hurtle along in are stuffed full of explosives, and contain plenty of flammable material. But despite the undeniable danger we place ourselves in every time we get in a car or walk near cars they aren't that scary.
But why aren't cars that scary? Statistically a car is going to kill you. I would argue that we aren't scared of cars because we are familiar enough with them that we are able to see that even though they are dangerous a car probably won’t kill us right now. Because we know that cars are not waiting outside our doors to kill us we tend to underestimate just how dangerous they are, but that is just how our minds work. Familiar daily dangers seem less scary than the dangers that seem to come out of nowhere.
(This entry is really just a digest of this interesting chart http://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/pdf/10LCID_Unintentional_Deaths_2010-a.pdf)
Now, you might think that “OK, cars are going to kill me, but right after that it has to be crazed gunmen killing indiscriminately.” Nope. After cars comes unintentional poisoning. If you are between the ages of 25 and 64 you are actually more likely to die of poisoning than cars! Before age 24 cars are number one, and after age 65 the number one cause of accidental injury death is falling down. “Falling down might kill old people, but what about me?” You ask. Well, falls are the number three killer.
At this point I think it would behoove us to look at numbers. The numbers I’m using are not rates, they are totals from 2010. The numbers were provided by the CDC. The numbers do not include illness. They numbers are for “unintentional injury death,” though I’m not sure what definition of “unintentional” is being used since suicide and homicide certainly seem intentional to me. The number for motor vehicle deaths in 2010 was 33,687, and the numbers for unintentional poisoning were 33,041. Considering that we live in a country of 300 million, the difference there seems pretty negligible. For unintentional falls the number is 26,009. So here we see a significant drop of over 9,000 from the previous total. But this number is actually misleading since 21,649 of those falls were by the over 65 crowd. So I guess you could say, that even though falls are number three, if you are under 65 falls probably aren't that big of a risk to you.
Onto number four, Suicide with a firearm. 19,392.
(Before we go any further I want to point out that suicide is divided up by mechanism. Homicide is as well. This entry will not go fully into the significance of this, but as we continue on with this series I will examine mechanism of homicide more in depth. I think it is important.)
Number five, Homicide with a firearm. 11,078. We finally get to killing, but you might have noticed that suicide is almost twice as common as homicide. In fact the numbers for gun deaths (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr61/nvsr61_04.pdf) are ~60% are suicides and ~35% are homicides. Of the remainder ~3% are accidents, and a good chunk of what’s left are “legal interventions.” If you get killed by a police officer it doesn't count as a homicide, it’s a legal intervention (I have a whole tangent I’d like to go on here, but I’ll spare you).
Do you know what the next two are? Suicide and Suicide. Suicide by suffocation (if you’re trying to figure out how people commit suicide with a pillow, try thinking hanging or jumping off a bridge), at 9,493; and Suicide by Poisoning, at 6,599.
If you want to know what the last three of the top ten injury deaths are they are: Unintentional suffocation, 6,165 (3,400 are the over 65’s); Unintentional unspecified, 5,688 (4,596 are the over 65’s); and Unintentional drowning, 3,782. Homicide by means other than guns is not in the top ten for the overall population, though if you look at the chart you can see that other forms do pop up for certain age groups.
Now you might have noticed something. If you add up the top three methods of suicide the total is 35,484. That’s more than cars. That means that you are more than three times as likely to kill yourself as you are to be killed by an assailant with a gun. 320% more likely in fact.
You are more likely to be killed by a car than by any other mechanism, but cars have no agency. Your car doesn't want you dead, it’s just a thing.
But the numbers show that there is a killer stalking you. When we think about dying we often think about “who” more than “what.” Suicide is more likely than other forms of injury death. And most accidents are going to be things that you cause for yourself. Who is going to kill you? You are.
Statistically speaking anyway.