For most of the past few decades, motor vehicle accidents have been the most common cause of death from injury – the leading cause of death in general – among children, teenagers and young adults in the United States. But now a new analysis shows that in recent years, weapons have overtaken car accidents such as leading cause of death in an accident among people aged one to 24 years.
The transition that took place in 2017 stems from both the reduction in vehicle deaths and the grim rise in gun deaths. From 2000 to 2020, the number of firearms-related deaths in the 1-24 age group increased from 7.3 per 100,000 to 10.28 per 100,000, age-adjusted data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal. During the same period, motor vehicle deaths decreased from 13.62 to 8.31 per 100,000 people.
“Crossing these trends shows how a coherent approach to injury prevention can reduce injuries and deaths – and vice versa, how public health can be exacerbated in the absence of such attention,” wrote Lois Lee, senior medical associate. . at Boston Children’s Hospital and her colleagues in a recent CDC data analysis published as Promising piece in New England Medical Journal.
The reduction in vehicle deaths is largely the result of concerted efforts to track and investigate road accidents. Congress established The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 1970 to save lives and prevent traffic-related injuries. One of the key actions of the agency was to create and maintain a public database of road deaths in the United States, which allows researchers to identify ways to improve safety.
In contrast, there is no federal agency to regulate the safety of firearms – and it took decades just to develop national firearms deaths database, Lee and her colleagues note in their document. In addition, from 1996 to 2018, a participant in the government spending bill called the Dickie Amendment effectively discouraged CDC funding for research to prevent gun injuries. He banned the CDC from using its resources to “advocate or promote arms control”, which led to a freeze on research into gun violence at the agency. This widely interpreted directive was extended to the National Institutes of Health in late 2011. In 2018, Congress reinterpreted Dickie’s amendment to allow such research, and funding was finally granted in late 2019.
“There’s solid funding for research and interventions related to motor vehicles,” Lee said, but “we’ve just begun to see federal funding for firearms research after 25 years of almost no funding.”
Lee and her colleagues attribute a number of improvements to the safety of life-saving vehicles to children and teenagers. These measures include automatic braking and side airbags, as well as additional seat laws and phased licensing. Although all U.S. states require people to obtain a license and registration to drive a vehicle, a loophole in federal law allows people in many states to purchase weapons from an unlicensed dealer without just checking. And federal law protects gun manufacturers from some liability for negligence claims, including when guns fall into the hands of children – with fatal consequences, according to Lee and her team.
Linda Degutis, a professor at the Yale School of Public Health and former director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, says the new findings about trends in the causes of death among young people are not surprising. “We haven’t focused so much on interventions, on how we can protect people, given that there are firearms in our environment – and that includes children,” said Degutis, who is not involved in the new analysis. “We have managed to reduce motor vehicle deaths in children and young adults,” [and] we did it using interventions that did not eliminate motor vehicles … We did not focus on the same kind of weapons strategy. “
Many experts argue that high firearms deaths among young people are not inevitable and that it is possible to prevent fatal accidents by collecting data and conducting research.
“As progress has been made in reducing motor vehicle deaths,” Lee and her colleagues wrote, “we do not need to accept the high rate of firearms deaths among children and adolescents in the United States.”