I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts this week and I heard a guest recommend that no blogger or podcaster ever read the comments on their site. I’ve never had a troll attack my work on the actual website, but last week my wife posted my essay on driving on her Facebook page and it received a comment that it was flawed and incomplete but didn’t go into specifics. It seemed strange since I had included the charts, graphs, and links to the information which supported my stance, but I couldn’t help but wonder if I had missed something. I will admit that I hadn’t done a scientific study on the topic starting from scratch with raw data, I left that up to researchers at The University of Virginia. I was taking the overall national data focusing on firearm deaths and vehicular deaths, but also included data on the leading causes of death in general, and hypothesized that the most dangerous thing I do most days is drive for 7 miles on a rural road.
The idea that I might have missed something in my analysis motivated me to go deeper in my research. I was having a hard time finding the numbers for the total number of people shot in the United States each year, as well as the total number of people seriously injured in car accidents. When I found the data, some interesting things started to jump out at me. While fewer than 90,000 people get shot in America each year, and fewer than 13,000 die being shot by others, over 2,000,000 people are injured in vehicular accidents each year with over 30,000 deaths occurring. That’s over 22 times more people hurt and more than twice as many deaths. Add to that the fact that most homicides, whether gun related or not, are identity and not place related (at least according to the FBI) while traffic fatalities are very place related with rural roads being the most dangerous and I would say my hypothesis is on solid ground.
Extrapolating those numbers out to conclude that cities are safer than suburbs and rural areas might seem a stretch, but so many other data points suggest it also; suicide seems to correlate precisely to urban density, living in a walkable environment improves health, and city dwellers tend to live closer to hospitals. Jeff Speck makes the same case at the end of this talk (minute 36) in Cleveland.