Which States Have Highest Injury Risk?

New Mexico residents are almost three times more likely to die from injuries than people from New Jersey. Check to see how your state ranks on injury fatality rates.
by | May 22, 2012 AT 11:00 AM

New Mexico residents are nearly three times more likely to die as a result of injuries than are New Jersey residents.

The state’s average death-from-injury rate of 97.8 per 100,000 was highest in the nation from 2007 to 2009, according to a new report by Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The study examines state safety policies and Centers for Disease Control data on death due to injuries, including everything from car accidents to drug overdoses.

Drug poisonings, traffic accidents and falls account for the bulk of injury-related deaths measured in the CDC data. Other fatalities include suicides, homicides and fires.

Rates for each injury type vary greatly from region to region. Mississippi residents are about four times more likely to die in motor vehicle accidents than those in Massachusetts or New York. Similarly, New Mexico’s fatality rate for drug poisoning and overdoses of 27.9 deaths per 100,000 residents is highest in the country, three times the six-lowest state rates.

While the report doesn’t attempt to establish any overarching reasons for overall rates of death due to injury from state to state, it does argue regulations and programs do, in some instances, curb injury-related deaths.

The report, for example, notes that laws regulating child booster seats, bike helmets for children, and other measures aimed at preventing life-threatening injuries clearly influence rates of death from injury in those instances.

“These are problems that have solutions, and there are some sensible policy initiatives that can be undertaken,” says Jeff Levi, TFAH’s executive director.

Among the report's findings:

  •     29 states lack bicycle helmet requirements for all children
  •     31 states do not require bike helmets for all motorcycle riders
  •     17 states do not require children at least 8 years old to ride in car or booster seats

Mandates regarding booster seats and seatbelts have proven to change behaviors and push down traffic-related injuries, Levi said. One study, for example, found an 18 percent reduction in injury rates for 4-to 6-year-olds after New York implemented a booster seat law in 2005.

The TFAH report cited misuse of prescription drugs as an escalating concern. Sales of painkillers and fatalities stemming from overdoses tripled from 1999 to 2010, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Prescription drug-monitoring programs, Levi said, have shown to reduce drug-related deaths.

With the nation’s aging population, deaths resulting from falls are also highlighted in the report. Amber Williams, executive director of Safe States Alliance, said communities can establish exercise programs to lessen the risk of such injuries.

Although the report doesn’t try to explain overall death rates due to injury from state to state, it does rank states on a series of 10 indicators the report asserts can measurably influence public safety, including motor vehicle regulations, violence prevention programs and other safety laws.

California and New York scored the highest, satisfying nine out of 10 requirements. The states had injury fatality rates of 47.6 and 37.1 per 100,000 residents, respectively.

Although having safety laws on the books raises public awareness, Williams adds that fines and enforcement of safety regulations are needed in order to reinforce the message.

Along with the human cost, injuries also account for a sizable portion of mounting health care expenses. A 2006 study found injuries cost $406 billion annually in treatments and lost productivity.

Williams, whose group contributed to the report, also emphasized many vital programs and policies are set at the local level. “There is a lot to be done at a state, local and national level to keep Americans safe,” she said.

Injury Fatality Rates

Click a state to view rates. States with higher numbers of fatalities per 100,000 residents are shaded in dark red.

All injury fatality rates are based on 2007-2009 age-adjusted death data from the National Vital Statistics System