Every year, millions of people die in the United States. Some of the top causes of death in this country include illnesses such as cancer and heart disease, as well as unintentional injuries. And of course, in 2020 and 2021, COVID-19 was added to the list.
When it comes to accidental deaths, some of the most common causes include car accidents, drowning, drug overdoses, and falls. While there are always ongoing safety and education efforts to mitigate these causes, a recent study found a notable disparity in accidental death rates among different states.
The analysis reports that from 1999-2017, 17 states in particular had a higher average death rate. This means we are seeing discrepancies in accidental deaths among different states – but why? This article will explore the potential contributing factors that may be causing this imbalance.
One factor that may play a role in accidental deaths is geography. Rugged terrains, remote areas, and natural hazards can all contribute to fatal accidents. For example, in Alaska, accidental deaths represent a disproportionately higher share of fatalities. Nearly 10 percent of deaths in Alaska are due to accidents. While we can’t attribute these accidents to the rugged terrain with certainty, it definitely seems like it could play a role. Alaska is a place where people explore the great outdoors, and there have been fatalities from situations like airplane and helicopter crashes, a lack of ability to rescue people, and even bear attacks.
Socioeconomic factors can certainly play a role in the variations in unintentional death rates. For example, there is a correlation between lower income levels and access to quality healthcare. This is due to factors such as lack of insurance, limited access to specialists, and not being offered new medication or technology. Data indicates that areas with lower socioeconomic populations have higher rates of unintentional death. One example of this is the surge of the opioid epidemic in more rural communities with residents of lower socioeconomic status.
Access to Healthcare in Rural Communities
On a similar note, whether accidents occur in urban or rural communities is another factor that plays a role in these state-to-state differences. One reason is that rural communities are more spread out and therefore have slower response times from emergency services. A study found that emergency medical services take an average of over 14 minutes to reach rural settings, while only taking 7 minutes in urban settings. The study also revealed that nearly one in 10 instances in rural communities had almost a thirty-minute wait, which can be the difference between life and death.
When we look at data in the United States, we see that many southern states have the highest rates of death. For example, the aforementioned study found that Mississippi had the highest overall death rate, at 988 deaths per 100,000 residents. Second place was taken by West Virginia and Alabama took third place. While the analyzed data includes all causes of death – not just accidents – it highlights the potential factor of rural versus urban areas when it comes to getting emergency medical care.
In general, some states just have more resources than others. EMS resources are vital to saving lives after an accident, and slow or limited response times are more common in certain parts of the country.
Public Health, Education, and Laws
Public health campaigns aim to raise awareness about health issues and injury prevention. For example, “click it or ticket,” and “buzzed driving is drunk driving” are campaigns that encourage safe driving practices. If some states have more campaigns than others, it can lead to more awareness in those regions. State laws may also play a role in how and where accidents occur. For example, some states have stricter laws for using helmets and seat belts. These states have seen reduced accident rates after implementing these laws.
Not only do statewide laws and campaigns play a role in the health and safety of that state’s residents, but some states have more health issues than others. For example, New Mexico is the state with the highest unintentional injury fatality rate. New Mexico also has the highest alcohol-attributable mortality rate in the country. While this is merely a correlation and does not imply causation, it paints a picture of another potential contributing factor.
Looking Forward: Recommendations and Collaborations
The disparity amongst states when it comes to accidental death is a multi-faceted issue. To address the states with higher accidental death rates, it will take the efforts of many different groups. Access to resources, geography, policy, and education all play roles and contribute to public health and safety. Collaboration between state governments, healthcare institutions, advocacy groups, and communities can potentially lead to safer environments. In the meantime, knowing about these discrepancies and being aware of safety hazards is all we can do.