Accidental Injury Becomes #3 Cause of Death in the U.S.

Accidental Injury Becomes #3 Cause of Death in the U.S.

Accidental Injury Becomes #3 Cause of Death in the U.S.

Preventable deaths rose 10% in 2016; drug overdose and motor vehicle crashes drove the increase.

Ken Kolosh is statistics manager for the National Safety Council.

​Blog  – Unintentional, preventable injuries claimed a record-high 161,374 lives in 2016 to become the third leading cause of death in the United States. In the more than 100 years the Council has been tracking unintentional deaths, we have never reached such levels. Accidental death is now at an all-time high, eclipsing stroke, homicide, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes and chronic lower respiratory disease. Only heart disease and cancer claim more lives each year.

A total of 14,803 more people died accidentally in 2016 than in 2015 – a 10% year-over-year increase. It is the largest single-year percent rise since 1936, and the largest two-year rise (+18.6%) since the Council began tracking accidental deaths in 1903.

Based on this data, an American is accidentally injured every second and killed every three minutes by a preventable event – a drug overdose, motor vehicle crash, fall, drowning, choking or another preventable incident. Preventable deaths have been rising since 2009, and unlike other causes of death, preventable injuries are a threat at every age.


The unprecedented spike 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. It should be noted that NSC reports 4,435 fewer opioid related deaths than does the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control because NSC focuses on accidental or unintentional deaths, while the CDC also includes intentional deaths like homicide and suicides as well as deaths with undetermined intent.

NSC analysis of the data from National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control shows motor vehicle deaths rose 6.8% to 40,327 in 2016. The final 2016 data marks a 14% increase in roadway deaths since 2014 – the largest two-year jump in 53 years.

For over a decade I have been studying all the ways Americans die accidentally, and the latest numbers give me cause for concern. Unintentional deaths are 100% preventable, and Americans are not doing enough to reduce their risk. Use the free Safety Checkup tool annually to generate a safety profile based on factors such as age, gender and state of residence.

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