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Auto Accidents On The Decline

Posted on January 10, 2013

Studies show that car accidents are declining, but they are still a big problem. Car accidents can result in serious injuries or death.

Deaths from traffic accidents have dropped dramatically over the last 10 years, while firearm-related fatalities rose for decades before leveling off in the past decade, a USA TODAY analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows.

English: Logo of the Centers for Disease Contr...

English: Logo of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an agency within the United States Department of Health and Human Services. White on blue background with white rays but no white “burst”. No detailed wording. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Meanwhile, the rate of firearms deaths has exceeded traffic fatalities in several states, including Arizona, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Michigan, Nevada and Oregon, records show. The rate is equal in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

In the United States in 2010, the rate of firearm deaths was 10 people per 100,000, while for traffic accidents it was 12 per 100,000. Firearm-related deaths totaled 31,672 in 2010.

In recent comments against gun control, bloggers, columnists and commentators have said, “More people are killed by cars than guns, but I don’t see anyone calling for a ban on automobiles.”

That argument was recently made by musician Ted Nugent in a column for the conservative Washington Times; Awr Hawkins, a blogger for, made the same argument after stating three times as many people die in car accidents as in shootings; and it’s a trend now in the comment section of every story about a car accident to ask why there’s no request for a ban on vehicles. In fact, a quick Internet search comes up with half-a-million hits from people asking why no one calls for a car ban every time a person is killed in an automobile accident.

Proponents of gun control say the converging death rates are due to better safety regulations for cars, while there has been little regulation, education or research on gun fatalities, said Kristen Rand, legislative director for the Violence Policy Center.

Public safety research data generated since the 1960s spurred “a whole host of strategies,” including safer highways and vehicles, graduated licensing programs and drunk-driving prevention.

“We’re now seeing how successful that has been,” she said. “We have not applied these lessons to firearms, and now we’re paying the price.”

The center, a non-profit organization that lobbies for firearm regulation and that is funded mainly by the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation, has new data that show that the number of car accident deaths in 12 states is lower than the number of firearm deaths there, she said.

Such statistics are misleading, said John Lott, an economist and author of More Guns, Less Crime. That’s because gun-related homicides and accidents have gone down, while suicide deaths by firearm have gone up, he claims.

He said there’s no need for legislation: Since the assault rifle ban ended in 2004, he said there has been twice as large a drop in firearm deaths.

But experts from the National Academies of Science’s National Research Council have taken issue with his numbers, which also don’t gel with the CDC’s findings. In 2004, there were 11,624 gun homicides — up from 10,828 in 1999. When the assault rifle ban ended, the numbers shot up to 12,632 in 2007 before slowly coming back down to 11,098 in 2010. There has been a corresponding decrease in violence in those years, leading researchers to say a correlation between the end of the ban and fewer gun murders is impossible to make. Deaths from accidental discharges dropped from 824 in 1999 to 600 in 2009. Firearm homicides rose from 10,828 in 1999 to 11,493 in 2009, a 6% increase.

“I assume the number of intentional car deaths is pretty small,” Lott said, as an explanation for why traffic deaths have gone down while firearm deaths continue to rise.

In 1999, 87 people intentionally killed themselves through car accidents; the number increased to 104 in 2009, according to the CDC. However, researchers at the Suicide Prevention Center have said as many as 2% of car accidents may be suicides, and that they are often reported as accidents.

The number of firearm deaths by “intentional self harm” was 16,599 in 1999, and 18,735 in 2009 – a 13% increase, according to the CDC.

Lott said regulations won’t affect those numbers, however, because people will simply find other methods to get the job done.

“I guess the question is, if you’re going to talk about safety features, what’s going to stop someone from suicide? Safety features aren’t going to change how someone intentionally uses a gun,” he said.

Catherine Barber, of the Harvard Injury Control and Research Center and the author of a recent report on suicide mortality, said that’s not necessarily the case. “You can always find a way, but there are very big differences in the proportion of methods that result in death,” she said.

In the 1990s, pesticides were the leading cause of suicide in Sri Lanka, she said. But when the country removed the most toxic of those chemicals from the shelves, the suicide rate dropped by half. Non-fatal poisoning did not go down.

“The misery wasn’t changing, but fewer people were dying,” Barber said. And, though someone may remain depressed for several days, “the acute period where you’re actually willing to pull the trigger is very short,” she said.

For 24% of people contemplating suicide, it’s about five minutes, research has found.

“Gun owners are at a higher risk of suicide in general,” she said, adding that they’re not more likely to screen higher for suicidal tendencies or depression. “It’s just that they’re more likely to die because of the greater lethality of guns.”

Still, Barber hasn’t proposed stricter gun laws – just more education. Gun owners and suicide prevention groups should work together to make sure people stay alert to signs of crisis. In Newtown, Conn., it’s been reported that the shooter’s mother knew her son needed help, but he was still able to gain access to her weapons. If a family member seems unwell, it might be a “good time to store guns or ask a friend to hold them,” Barber said.

“People can become very polarized when talking about legislation, but I think there’s a lot of common ground between gun owners and non-gun owners,” she said. “Seems like awareness might have averted a tragedy in Newtown.”

But it can be difficult to get those lessons out to the public, said Lois Fingerhut, who used to conduct injury research analysis for the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics and now works as a consultant. Pro-gun rights groups, such as the National Rifle Association, have consistently opposed government-sponsored research on guns. In the 1990s, a bill by then-Rep. Jay Dickey, R-Ark., prevented the CDC from conducting firearm research. Another provision on the annual spending bill for the CDC bars the agency from advocating or promoting gun control. The CDC still collects data about firearms deaths but conducts no research.

“Policymakers did pay attention (to the numbers) for a while – before the CDC was told they couldn’t do gun research,” Fingerhut said.

“Nobody could stop you from putting out data – we let it speak for itself. But research was seen as anti-gun.”

Before the ban on research, the CDC issued a report predicting the number of gun deaths would top vehicle deaths by 2003. It found that vehicle deaths dropped by 21% from 1968 to 1991, while firearms deaths increased by 60%. In 1990, the number of firearms deaths was equal or higher than vehicle deaths in five states, and in seven states in 1991.

Her work traced the same trend USA TODAY found – that traffic deaths continued to go down while firearm deaths rose, then flatlined over the past decade.

In 2011, traffic deaths fell 2% to 32,367 from the previous year, making traffic deaths in 2011 at the lowest level since 1949 — and a 26% decline since 2005, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. However, the first nine months of 2012 showed an increase of 7% in traffic fatalities over the same period a year earlier. Though officials have not conjectured about the increase, 2011 numbers show that fatalities were up 20% for large truck occupants, 9% for bicyclists, 3% for pedestrians and 2% for motorcyclists. Distracted-driving fatalities also increased by 2% in 2011.

If you or a loved one were the victim of a car accident that was caused by negligence or some other form of reckless behavior, it is important that you contact a committed and dedicated personal injury lawyer to help you decide if you should file a lawsuit. A competent and reputable injury lawyer can help you receive the compensation you deserve for your pain and suffering.

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