Safety First, Kids

September 11th's tragedies led me to ruminate on the fact that many, many more of us are killed by car crashes and other accidents each year than died on that awful Tuesday. Put another way, us and our loved ones are at risk from accidental death, and it's not principally from terrorist attacks. This led me to research what are the most common causes of death—in particular accidental death—and how they can be avoided. My findings are are below.

The top 4 leading causes of death in the U.S. are cancer, stroke, heart disease, and heart attack, with number of annual deaths as follows:

Heart Disease: 724,859
Cancer: 541,532
Stroke: 158,448
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: 112,584

However, the fifth leading cause is accidents, at a horrific 97,835 deaths per year. The lion's share of these accidental deaths are motor vehicle crashes: 43,200. (That's a September 11th every single month, year in and year out. Between 1899 and the end of 1986 about 2,650,000 Americans died in motor-vehicle accidents.)

Additionally, when you take old people out of the statistics (who suffer most of the cancer and heart disease), accidents are the #1 cause of death for people aged 1-44, killing 46,102—of which, 27,988 are from motor vehicle crashes. That's four September 11ths of young people, just on the road, every year.

The other major causes of accidental death are:

Fire-related injuries

Most safety experts agree that it is possible to predict, and take steps to prevent, the majority of accidents. Here are suggested tactics for preventing each of these types of accidents:

Most traffic deaths occur on rural state roads. Improper or careless driving, including speeding, is frequently to blame. The good driver obeys every traffic law and rule of the road. Before the car is started, the driver and all passengers should fasten their seat belts. Granting the right-of-way to another driver may prevent a collision. While driving on country roads, watch for vehicles coming from side roads and farm driveways. One of the most important things to remember about motor vehicles is that, in motion, they are more powerful than nearly anything in their paths. Any distraction while driving can prove fatal.

Moderate speed is best at all times. The 55-mph national speed limit was estimated to save between 2,000 and 4,000 lives a year.

Never drive after drinking alcoholic beverages, or ever get in a car with a driver who has done so.

Never drive when very tired, especially when alone; if you're in danger of nodding off, pull into a safe location such as a well-lit rest stop and take a short nap or get out of the car and walk around for a few minutes. Stop as often as necessary, rather than trying to push on toward home—better to make it home late, than never.

Traffic death rates are three times greater at night than during the day; at night, reduce your speed and increase your following distances. It is more difficult to judge other vehicle's speeds and distances at night. Don't overdrive your headlights. You should be able to stop inside the illuminated area. If you're not, you are creating a blind crash area in front of your vehicle. If an oncoming vehicle doesn't lower beams from high to low, avoid glare by watching the right edge of the road and using it as a steering guide. If you have car trouble, pull off the road as far as possible.

If you are taking any medications, be sure to read and obey the warning labels. If the label says the medication causes drowsiness or not to drive—heed the warning and don't drive. The warnings are there for a reason.

Avoid aggressive driving by relaxing and having patience. By not being in such a rush to reach your destination you will be a calmer person and won't need to speed and run red lights. A yellow light means slow down, not speed up. Always stop at red lights; many crashes occur due to people rushing to "beat" the yellow light.

Yield the right-of-way at intersections. Give proper signals well ahead of time to let others know what you are going to do. Keep a safe distance from the car ahead of you. Do not weave in and out of traffic. Avoid taking your eyes off the road by eliminating any possible distractions ahead of time. Reduce to a minimum possibly dangerous diversions of your attention from the tasks of safe driving such as changing tapes, and always pull over to a safe place to use your cell phone. Talking on the phone increases the risk of an accident by more than 30%.

Each year thousands of pedestrians are killed by motor vehicles. The most common situations in which pedestrians are struck by cars are when the pedestrians are walking against traffic signals, crossing a street without looking to see if a car is coming, or darting out from behind parked cars. It is often the case that young victims had been using alcohol or drugs that impaired their judgment.

Thousands of other people are killed while riding motorcycles or bicycles or while roller skating. Wearing helmets can decrease the number of fatalities and serious injuries among both motorcyclists and bicyclists. Skill, common sense, alertness, and courtesy are essential to safety. Motorcyclists and bicyclists should obey traffic rules. A bicycle should have a headlight and a taillight or red reflector. Wearing bright, reflective clothing helps make riders visible to drivers at night.

Fatal falls are most often caused by using tables and chairs as ladders—stop doing this now!—and leaving objects on stairways that others can trip over. Safety can be increased by making sure stairwells have sturdy rails and are well-lighted; using a rubber mat or nonskid decals and a hand grip in the bathtub; and smoothing warped linoleum and wiping up spilled water and grease in the kitchen.

Careless smoking accounts for about 28 percent of all fires. Smoke and fire detectors should be installed in all buildings, and insured to have fresh batteries and to be in proper working order. Smoke inhalation can kill you without awakening you, so detectors are absolutely crucial. Once awake, if you're in a smoky room, crawl—do not walk—to the nearest exit. Most fire fatalities are from smoke-inhalation, and it happens in the following insidious fashion: You take a breath of smoky, oxygen-poor air—which your body reacts to by involuntarily drawing a deeper breath! It's this second lungful that knocks you dizzy, then unconscious—and then you're done for. It's not something you can see coming very well.

Drowning claims many lives. Many young victims drown while playing in water or swimming; most older victims drown as a result of accidents while fishing or after they have been drinking alcohol. Diving injuries can be among the most serious nonfatal injuries. Total paralysis, or quadriplegia, can result when a diver hits the bottom of a pool or lake headfirst. Such injuries can be avoided by observing basic precautions. Do not dive into water that is shallower than twice your height. Do not dive into unfamiliar water; know the depth of the water and be sure the water is free of submerged objects. Do not assume water is deep enough—the levels of familiar rivers, lakes, bays, and swimming holes can change. Actually, best of all, just don't dive. Never swim alone. If caught in a rip-tide in the ocean, start swimming *parallel to the shore*; this will get you out of the rip-tide, at which time you can swim back in. If you fight directly against the rip-tide, you will exhaust yourself, leading to drowning.

The leading causes of death from poisoning among young adults are prescription, over-the-counter, and other drugs. Alcohol is the leading liquid poison. Prescription and over-the-counter drugs should be used only as advised by a health-care professional. Illicit drugs should be avoided entirely. Alcohol should be consumed only in moderation.

Death by choking can be prevented by chewing food carefully and thoroughly (I'm a major offender here)—especially when eating alone!—as well as knowing how to assist others when they are choking. Don't let the beautiful, unique story of your life in the world end with a Tater Tot.