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Accident Prevention for Longevity: Managing the Risks

Last Updated: December 20, 2023

Key Takeaways
  • Priorities. Prioritize safety in daily activities—from driving to home maintenance—to significantly reduce risk of accidental injuries and deaths.
  • Knowledge. Regularly update knowledge and skills related to personal safety. You never know when knowledge will help prevent a tragic outcome.
  • Contributing factors. Understand and manage alcohol consumption to prevent it from contributing to accidental fatalities.


Living a long, healthy life requires avoiding fatal and debilitating accidents. Approximately 10% of people die of unnatural causes (i.e., from accidents) [1]. And avoiding being among them should be a priority of anyone serious about their longevity.

This guide discusses the top-five top causes of accidental deaths, offering practical strategies for preventing them from happening to you and your loved ones. It covers unintentional drug overdoses, vehicle accidents, falls, poisoning, and homicides. Examples of recommended action you should take to reduce risks include choosing safe vehicles, home modifications to prevent falls, carbon monoxide detectors, safe handling of chemicals, and understanding the risks of alcohol.

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Unintentional Drug Overdoses

78,000 deaths per year

Unintentional drug overdose leads to a staggering 78,000 deaths annually in the US, with 75% of them involving opioids [2]. It may seem that abstaining from drug use is the best way to prevent these deaths. However, abstinence is not a feasible goal for the people who are most at risk for this cause of death [3].

Public-health strategies generally employ a four-part approach emphasizing prevention, treatment, harm reduction [4], and recovery support.

Applied to opioids, this strategy often takes the form of:

  • Prevention. Educate individuals and communities about the risks of opioid abuse and the importance of safe opioid usage, including avoiding opioid painkiller prescriptions where possible, not sharing prescribed medications, and properly disposing of unused medications [5]. These steps can, for example, prevent an opioid addiction that begins with a prescription and evolves into illicit heroin abuse.
  • Treatment. Increase access to effective treatment options like medication-assisted treatment (MAT), which combines medications like methadone or buprenorphine with counseling and behavioral therapies [6].
  • Harm Reduction. Expand harm reduction strategies, notably the widespread distribution of naloxone and implementation of Good Samaritan laws, to reduce the mortality and morbidity associated with opioid overdoses [7].
  • Recovery Support. Enhancing recovery support services is crucial for long-term positive outcomes in substance abuse recovery [8].

While there is a widely held view—particularly in the US—that people with substance-abuse disorders never recover, research demonstrates that 75% of them do eventually recover [9].

Car Accidents

43,000 deaths per year

Ensuring personal safety on the road is a vital aspect of reducing the risk of car accidents, a leading cause of accidental deaths. As an individual, there are several proactive steps you can take to protect yourself and others while driving.

These measures not only enhance your safety but also contribute to overall road safety:

  • Vehicle Choice. If safety is your top priority, opt for a large SUV with a high safety rating as opposed to a passenger car. In head-on collisions, large SUVs are much safer than passenger cars. And vehicle type matters more than safety ratings [10]. For example, you might try to get your hands on a Ford Police Interceptor SUV, which resembles an Explorer but has additional features specially designed to protect passengers in high-speed accidents [11].
  • Safety Practices. Seemingly common-sense habits and behaviors are critical to minimizing the risk of road accidents. For example, keeping your eyes on the road (e.g., never texting while driving), wearing a seatbelt, avoiding alcohol, and adhering to speed limits significantly reduces the risk of serious injury and death while driving [12].

Beyond taking personal responsibility for your safety on the road, policy makers, police departments, and automakers can also do their part in contributing to public safety on the roads. While research demonstrates that post-license driver education has no effect, other factors make a positive impact. Sobriety checkpoints, road-safety campaigns, replacing stop lights with traffic circles, and electronic stability control technology for vehicles all significantly decrease the number of accidents [13].


37,000 deaths per year

The statistics surrounding deaths from falls can be startling, especially considering that this cause of accidental death is often overlooked. With nearly 40,000 fatalities annually in the US [14], falls represent a significant risk, particularly for those over the age of 65. Understanding and mitigating these risks is crucial to your personal safety and longevity.

As you age, managing the factors that contribute to falls can play a critical role in preventing these often devastating accidents. Preventive measures include [15]:

  • Strength Training. Essential for combating age-related muscle loss and frailty, which are significant contributors to falls in older adults.
  • Balance and Coordination Exercises. Activities like Tai Chi and specific balance-focused exercises enhance balance and coordination.
  • Home Safety and Environmental Adjustments. Implementing safety measures at home—such as ensuring adequate lighting, removing trip hazards, and installing grab bars in bathrooms—can significantly reduce the risk of falls. Regular home assessments—especially post-hospital discharge—help identify and mitigate fall risks.

We must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
John F. Kennedy


7,000 to est. 450,000 deaths per year

The danger of poisoning—excluding drug overdoses—is a significant yet often overlooked cause of accidental deaths. Each year, thousands of individuals die from various forms of poisoning, including carbon monoxide exposure and household chemical accidents. This stark reality underscores the importance of vigilance in identifying and managing sources of poisoning.

Poisoning is the leading cause of thousands of deaths each year in the US and contributes to hundreds of thousands more. Sources include:

  • Alcohol Poisoning. Acute alcohol poisoning kills around 2,500 people. To reduce alcohol poisoning rates, individuals should use tools like the CDC’s Alcohol Screening Tool for self-assessment and moderation, avoid binge drinking, and seek medical attention in cases of possible alcohol poisoning. Healthcare providers should screen and counsel patients on excessive drinking, while states and communities can track alcohol-related incidents and support policies to reduce binge drinking [16].
  • Carbon Monoxide Poisoning. Carbon monoxide (CO) kills 420 people each year and sends another 100,000 to hospital emergency departments. To prevent CO poisoning, install and regularly check CO detectors, ensure annual servicing of heating systems and appliances, keep vents clear, and avoid running vehicles or gasoline-powered engines in enclosed spaces. Recognize symptoms like headaches and dizziness, and immediately call for medical help if CO poisoning is suspected [17].
  • Household Chemicals. Of the 45,000 people treated for poisoning from disinfectants and cleaners each year [18], we estimate between 300 and 600 of them will die as a result of their exposure [19]. To prevent unintentional poisonings, always store chemical products in their original containers and out of reach of children in childproof cabinets [20].
  • Industrial Chemicals. Statistics vary widely for the number of workers who die from exposure to industrial chemicals. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that around 40 people die per year [21]. Meanwhile, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that 50,000 workers die each year as a consequence of chemical exposure, including cancer [22]. To reduce workplace chemical hazards, employers should implement a chemical management system focusing on informed substitution and eliminating chemical hazards at the source [23].
  • Food Poisoning. According to the CDC, 48 million Americans get sick from foodborne diseases each year. Of that total, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die [24]. To prevent food poisoning, follow the four key steps of Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill in food preparation and handling at home. Additionally, be cautious with home-delivered groceries and meal kits, maintain cleanliness in food storage areas, and practice safe dining habits when eating out [25].
  • Heavy Metals. The number of deaths in the US attributable to heavy metal exposure is poorly defined. However, models suggest that, for example, lead contributes to over 400,000 deaths from all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, and ischemic heart disease [26]. To prevent heavy metal poisoning, reduce exposure to heavy metals by wearing protective gear in high-risk environments, keeping dust and dirt out of homes, and being cautious about potential lead, mercury, and other heavy-metal sources. Additionally, pay attention to product labels and local advisories, particularly regarding fish with high mercury levels and products that may contain heavy metals [27].


15,000 deaths per year

Accounting for over 15,000 deaths per year, homicide in the US is a serious public-health problem.

The relationship between the victim and offender typically deviates from public perception and Hollywood portrayals. For the 50% of homicides where the offender is identified, 25% of victims were killed by a family member, 55% by a friend or acquaintance, and 20% by a stranger [28]. Furthermore, according to a study conducted in Illinois homicide cases, over 40% of homicide offenders have been convicted of a felony in the previous decade, while over 70% have been arrested during that same timeframe [29]. In other words, if you are the victim of a homicide, you are most likely to be killed by someone you know with a criminal history. Therefore, your strategy for minimizing the risk of falling victim to this type of violence should include the following elements [30]:

  • High-Risk Relationships. Avoid abusive relationships and interactions with people known to carry firearms. Utilize legal protections like restraining orders and seek social assistance when necessary. Seek help for mentally ill individuals to prevent potential irrational or delusional behavior.
  • Proactive Precautions. Stay indoors during early morning hours when most homicides occur. Avoid picking up hitchhikers. Lock doors and windows, and don’t let in strangers. Safely store firearms.
  • High-Risk Situations. Recognize and avoid places where violent people congregate, especially late at night. Stay clear of situations involving heavy use of alcohol or drugs, which can escalate conflicts. Avoid drug dealers.

The Complex Role of Alcohol in Accident Prevention

The impact of alcohol on accidental deaths is both profound and multifaceted, extending beyond the 2,500 annual deaths attributed to acute alcohol poisoning. In fact, alcohol contributes to over 140,000 fatalities each year [31], playing a central role in a range of incidents ranging from car accidents to physical altercations. The pervasiveness of alcohol in these scenarios is profound.

Alcohol dramatically impairs your ability to drive a car, significantly increasing the likelihood of fatal crashes. Even small amounts can affect judgment, reaction time, and motor skills [32].

Alcohol is also often a catalyst in violent altercations where impaired judgment and reduced inhibition can escalate conflicts into deadly incidents [33].

Less acute but no less dangerous, alcohol can drive irresponsible sexual behavior that results in contracting sexually transmitted diseases [34].

Understanding and managing personal alcohol consumption is, therefore, a crucial aspect of risk mitigation. This ability includes awareness of one’s limits and understanding the impact of alcohol on one’s behavior and decision making.

Additionally, supporting public policies that reduce drunk driving—such as strict DUI laws and accessible public transportation options—is vital [35]. After all, you also don’t want to get hit by a drunk driver.

By addressing alcohol consumption from both a personal and societal perspective, the risk of alcohol-related accidents can decrease significantly, enhancing everyone’s safety and wellbeing.


Pursuing strategies that promote a longer, healthier life extends beyond averting disease to include conscientiously managing the risks of everyday accidents.

Clearly, drug overdoses, traffic accidents, falls, poisonings, and homicides highlight that longevity depends on prudent choices and—in some cases—luck as much as medical advancements.