Crashes fuel U.S. death-rate increase

By Eric Sundquist

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, made headlines last week for showing a decrease in Americans’ life expectancy in 2015—a reversal of a decades-long positive trend.

One element of the brief report is of special interest to transportation practitioners: The population-adjusted “unintentional injury” rate jumped by 7 percent, passing chronic lower respiratory diseases to rank No. 3 as a cause of death. Causes of unintentional injuries include crashes, as well as drug overdoses, falls and other less-common mishaps.

The report is brief and did not come with detailed data of 2015 deaths. But calculating from population data and the summary data in the brief, it appears that crashes accounted for about a quarter of the increase in the rate of unintentional injuries.

The increase in crash deaths likely had an outsized impact on life expectancy, given that crashes disproportionately affect younger people and result in greater loss of life-years than do heart disease, cancer and other causes that more commonly affect older people.

Crashes in 2016 likely will again be a drag on U.S. life expectancy. With post-recession VMT continuing to spike, crash deaths for the first seven months of the year were up 7 percent from 2015, according to the National Safety Council.

Eric Sundquist is Managing Director of SSTI.