Some 20,360 children and teenagers died in the U.S. in 2016 and 60% of those fatalities were preventable injuries, according new study published in the peer-reviewed New England Journal of Medicine. The No. 1 cause: Motor vehicle accidents, which claimed the lives of more than 4,000 teenagers and children. Safety experts say that prevention efforts, awareness campaigns, more sophisticated cars designed to help prevent fatalities and better trauma care have cut the death rate of young people from such crashes in half in less than two decades.
Motor vehicle accidents was the No. 1 cause of death for children, closely followed by firearms.
Firearm deaths was the No. 2 cause of death among youth, claiming the lives of more than 3,140 children and teens in 2016, according to the research compiled by a team from a University of Michigan. That equates to approximately eight children dying per day due to preventable deaths related to firearms. The rate of firearm-related death for those aged 1 to 19 years has stayed around the same for nearly the past two decades, the analysis said, although that rate is still more than 36 times as high as the average rate across 12 other high-income countries.
Cancer was the No. 3 cause of death and accounted for 1,853 deaths of those age 1 to 19, although its death rate has dropped over the last 17 years, and suffocation — mainly suicides by hanging and other means — was No. 4. Suicide, however, is on the rise. Those causes were followed by drowning, drug overdoses/poisonings and birth defects, each with just under 1,000 deaths in each of those categories. (The study used publicly available data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s database of information from death certificates.)
Fatal road accidents are still at epidemic proportions, safety experts say. For all age groups, deaths on the road reached 40,000 last year, down 1% from 2016, according to the National Safety Council. These figures remain high despite automatic emergency breaks, plus nationwide seat belt and sober driving and anti-texting campaigns. Traffic deaths exceeded 40,000 in 2016 for the first time since 2006. Some 4.57 million people were seriously injured in motor vehicle crashes in 2017, and costs to society reached nearly $414 billion, also down 1% on the year.
Gun-related deaths are on the rise
The No. 2 reason for fatalities among teenagers and children also continues to frustrate lawmakers and campaigners. Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there were 39,773 deaths related to firearms in 2017. That’s about 12 deaths per 100,000 people and is also up from the 28,874 deaths by firearms in 1999. CDC statisticians told CNN last week that gun deaths have reached a near 40-year record-high. A recent nationwide Gallup poll concluded that one-third of K-12 teachers said gun control was the answer to reduce shootings while, 22% advocated banning assault rifles and certain types of guns,
Approximately 19% of teachers in that poll suggested funding for better mental health care, 15% want more security at schools, including bulletproof windows and doors, and armed guards, and 10% want stricter background checks. Only 7% of teachers said they wanted guns in classrooms. Other suggestions from teachers included: More resources, counselors and psychologists for teachers (6%), more parental involvement (4%) and better communication between teachers and students. Only 1% said they favored repealing the Second Amendment or disbanding the NRA.
However, K-12 teachers’ preference for steps aimed at gun control could reflect their partisanship more than their profession, the report said. “Roughly twice as many teachers identify as Democrats or say they are Democratic-leaning independents than identify as Republicans or lean Republican,” it found. And Democrats are much more likely to favor gun restrictions than Republicans, according to the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan, Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
There is some scientific agreement. “Strengthening state firearm policies may prevent firearm suicide and homicide, with benefits that may extend beyond state lines,” according to a study published last March in JAMA Internal Medicine, a peer-reviewed journal. The study examined county and state-level gun laws in 3,108 counties and the 48 contiguous states, and compared them with firearm-related death rates between 2010 and 2014. Researchers analyzed local laws and assigned scores of 0 to 12 (from least to most restrictive) to states and counties.
(Leslie Albrecht contributed to this story.)