Unintentional Fatal Injuries: What’s the Biggest Risk to You?

Every year, thousands of people in the United States die from unintentional injuries. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), unintentional injuries are the fourth leading cause of death in the country

Between 2010 and 2020 there were 1,660,577 deaths caused by unintentional injury.

That’s roughly 19,522,720 years of potential lives lost. 

Who’s the Most Susceptible to Fatality by Unintentional Injury?

Those 65+ 

According to the National Safety Council, those over the age of 65 are the most susceptible to dying from an unintentional injury. In fact, there have been more elderly people who have died from falls in the past decade than there have been total deaths from unintentional injury in the 45-54 age range. 

This is likely due to a combination of factors, including declining physical strength and balance, as well as medications that can cause dizziness or drowsiness. Elderly people are also more likely to live alone, which can make it difficult to get help if they fall or injure themselves. 

What Are the Leading Causes of Death By Unintentional Injury?

Unintentional Death by Poisoning

Poisoning is the third leading cause of unintentional injury death in this country. 97.9% of deaths by unintentional poisoning are caused by drug and alcohol consumption, with the remaining 2.1% coming from chemicals and other toxic substances. 

Most overdose deaths are caused by opioids, such as prescription pain relievers and heroin. 

What Is Meant by “Poisoning”? 

Unintentional death by poisoning is a serious problem in the United States, with 97.9% of cases being caused by drug and alcohol consumption. The remaining 2.1% of deaths are caused by other chemicals and toxic substances. 

What Age Group Is Most Susceptible to Unintentional Death by Poisoning?

Between 2010 and 2020, the 45-54 age range had the highest number of fatalities caused by poisoning. However, in cases unrelated to drugs or alcohol, children younger than 6 are most at risk

Which States Have the Highest Rate of Unintentional Death by Poisoning?

The states with the highest rate of unintentional death by poisoning are West Virginia, Maine, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Delaware, Maryland, Connecticut, Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana, and New Mexico.  These states have higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse, which contributes to the high number of poisoning deaths. 

Drug Overdose Mortality Rate by State

Does Where You Live Matter?

According to data from 2010-2019, drug overdose deaths are higher in urban counties compared to rural counties, with the exception of California, Connecticut, North Carolina, Vermont, and Virginia. 

The age-adjusted overdose death rates are also higher in urban counties than in rural counties. However, there are some exceptions to this trend. 

For instance, females in urban areas have a lower rate of 17.0 per 100,000 per capita compared to females in rural areas who have a rate of 17.9 per 100,000 per capita. 

Additionally, psychostimulants with abuse potential, i.e. those involving natural and semisynthetic opioids, have higher rates in rural areas. Therefore, while there is a general trend of higher accidental death rates in urban areas due to poisonings, there are some notable exceptions that should be taken into account.

What’s the Source?

The majority of the deaths from poisoning were caused by synthetic (non-prescription) opioids like fentanyl rather than prescription drugs.

In 2010, there were 3,007 overdoses involving synthetic opioids. By 2020, that number had skyrocketed to 56,516. While the number of overdoses involving prescription opioids has been relatively consistent over the past decade, hovering between 14,000 and 17,000, the total number of drug-related deaths continues to rise. 

The dangers of fentanyl have been thrust into the spotlight in recent years, as the number of deaths caused by the powerful opioid has risen sharply. While fentanyl is often prescribed to patients who are struggling with pain after surgery, it is also increasingly being used illegally. 

Fentanyl is up to 50 times more potent than heroin, making it much easier to overdose on. Furthermore, fentanyl is often mixed with other drugs without the user's knowledge, which can further increase the risk of an overdose. 

The increase in availability and potency of fentanyl has led to a corresponding increase in fatalities, as the drug is now responsible for a significant number of overdoses each year. 

Does Gender Make a Difference?

According to the latest data, almost twice as many men die from accidental poisoning than women in the United States. 

There are a few possible explanations for this difference. Males may be exposed to substances via their line of work. Their levels of drug use may be more consistent and more intense, and men are known for demonstrating riskier behaviors, in general, than women.

Unintentional Death by Fall

Falls are one of the most common causes of nonfatal unintentional injuries—but they're also one of the most deadly. 

Between 2010 and 2020, falls claimed the lives of 367,816 Americans. Falls often occur because of trip hazards or slick surfaces, but they can also be caused by dizziness or poor vision. 

While falls are a leading cause of death for both sexes, males are slightly more likely to die from a fall than females. However, when looking at falls among different age groups, gender does not seem to be as much of a factor. 185,431 males died from falls between 2010 and 2020 compared to 182,385 women.

While gender does not seem to play a significant role in accidental falls among the general population, age is definitely a factor. The majority of those killed by falls are 65 and older, making them the most at-risk group. 

Unintentional Death by Motor Vehicle/Traffic

Motor vehicle crashes are another leading cause of unintentional injury death in the United States. 399,797 people died from motor vehicle crashes between 2010 and 2020.

Drinking and driving, distracted driving, and speeding all contribute to the high number of motor vehicle crash deaths each year. 

What Age Group Is Most Susceptible to Unintentional Death by Motor Vehicle?

According to the CDC, teen drivers are most at risk of unintentional death by motor vehicle. Per mile driven, they are almost three times as likely as drivers older than 20 to be in a fatal crash.

Which States Have the Highest Rate of Unintentional Death by Motor Vehicle?

Every year, tens of thousands of Americans are killed in motor vehicle accidents. While the overall number of fatalities has declined in recent years, the rate of unintentional death by motor vehicle remains tragically high. 

According to data from the CDC, the states with the highest rate of such deaths are Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, and South Carolina. In Mississippi, the rate is 24.3 per 100,000 population; in Alabama, it is 20.7; in Arkansas, it is 19.6; and in South Carolina, it is 19.3. While there are many factors that contribute to this problem, it is clear that more needs to be done to improve safety on our roads.

The states with the lowest rate of unintentional death by motor vehicle are Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. These states have an average rate of 6.1, 6.8, and 6.9 per 100,000 population, respectively. The state of Massachusetts has the lowest rate at 5.9 per 100,000 population. 

These states have a number of factors that contribute to their low rates of unintentional death by motor vehicle. Their dense populations mean that there are more people to share the roadways, and thus more potential for people to witness and report accidents. Additionally, these states have a higher rate of seat belt use, as well as laws that prohibit distracted driving and texting while driving. 

Does Where You Live Matter?

Although city dwellers may feel that they are at a higher risk of being involved in a car accident, the data tells a different story. In fact, although urban areas have a higher population density and more cars on the road, a greater percentage of car crash fatalities occur in rural areas. 

One reason for this is that rural roads are often narrower and have more blind spots than urban roads. Additionally, rural areas typically have higher speed limits than urban areas, which can lead to more serious accidents. 

What’s Causing This?

Drunk, distracted, and speeding drivers are causing an increasing number of traffic fatalities in the US. 

Between 2010 and 2020, drunk driving caused 114,414 deaths. 

Distracted driving is also on the rise, causing an increase in traffic accidents to 33,548 between 2010 and 2020.

Speeding was a factor in 109,281 fatalities between 2010 and 2020. 

 These accidents often result in serious injuries or death. If you are a driver, it is important to be aware of these risks and take precautions to avoid them. If you are ever in an accident, do not hesitate to seek medical help.

Does Gender Make a Difference?

When it comes to unintentional fatality risk due to motor vehicle accidents, gender makes a difference.

Between 2010 and 2020, there were 283,010 driving-related deaths among males and only 116,787 among females.

That's over twice as many males killed in motor vehicle accidents than females. While there are many factors that play into these statistics such as speeding, alcohol consumption, and distracted driving, it is clear that gender does play a role in unintentional fatality risk when it comes to motor vehicle accidents. 


Accidental deaths claim the lives of thousands of Americans every year. While it is impossible to completely eliminate the risk of accidental death, awareness can go a long way to reducing your chances of becoming a statistic.