Driving a car is easily the most dangerous activity commonly performed on a daily basis in the United States. But stepping behind the wheel of a car may take a backseat to gun violence as a leading cause of death for the first time this year.
According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, gun deaths are projected to overtake traffic fatalities among the top causes of death in 2015. For people under the age of 25, guns could take the No. 1 spot.
It’s not quite as bad as it sounds.
Guns aren’t killing many more people than in the recent past — about 33,000 deaths are expected in 2015, which is close to the ten-year average. But traffic deaths have been declining for decades thanks to vehicle safety improvements and policies requiring seatbelts and airbags, among other factors. A shift in preference to walking, biking and public transportation has also cut down on total vehicle fatalities, which are expected to number roughly 32,000 this year.
And while homicides grab headlines, guns statistically pose the greatest threat to their owners. Nearly two-thirds of gun-related deaths each year are suicides.
Gun homicides, in fact, have plummeted by almost 50 percent since an all-time high in 1993. Unfortunately, suicides increased dramatically to make up the difference, and the number may still be on the rise, according to CDC data.
There is, however, some potential for cars to make an unfortunate comeback as a leading killer.
The number of fatal vehicle crashes is inversely correlated with the price of gas, which has decreased by more than a dollar per gallon nationwide since last summer. People will drive more if prices stay low, which could lead to more accidents.
Even though gun violence doesn’t seem to be increasing significantly, sensible policies like restricting firearm ownership for domestic abusers and requiring background checks for gun purchases could save lives.
The prevalence of suicides might also merit a stronger nationwide focus on clinical depression — which is a serious but highly treatable medical condition — and mental health in general.
And South Carolina’s recent top-ten ranking for traffic fatalities by population based on NHTSA data suggests there is plenty of work to be done in making the state’s roads safer.
After all, both gun and car-related deaths are preventable.