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Calm Down … You Are Much More Likely to Be Killed By Boring, Mundane Things than Terrorism

Posted By admin On April 28, 2013 @ 5:56 am In Commentary | Comments Disabled

Washington’s Blog [1]
April 28, 2013

We’ve previously noted [2] – based upon older figures – that:

– You are 17,600 times more likely to die from heart disease than from a terrorist attack

– You are 12,571 times more likely to die from cancer than from a terrorist attack

— You are 11,000 times more likely to die in an airplane accident than from a terrorist plot involving an airplane

— You are 1048 times more likely to die from a car accident than from a terrorist attack

–You are 404 times more likely to die in a fall than from a terrorist attack

— You are 87 times more likely to drown than die in a terrorist attack

– You are 13 times more likely to die in a railway accident than from a terrorist attack

–You are 12 times more likely to die from accidental suffocation in bed than from a terrorist attack

–You are 9 times more likely to choke to death on your own vomit than die in a terrorist attack

–You are 8 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist

–You are 8 times more likely to die from accidental electrocution than from a terrorist attack

– You are 6 times more likely to die from hot weather than from a terrorist attack

But we wanted to look at more recent statistics.

The U.S.  Department of State reports that only 17 [3] U.S. citizens were killed worldwide as a result of terrorism. That figure includes deaths in Afghanistan, Iraq and all other theaters of war.

In contrast, the American agency which tracks health-related issues – the U.S. Centers for Disease Control – rounds up [4] the most prevalent causes of death in the United States:


Comparing the CDC numbers to terrorism deaths means:

– You are 35,079 [6] times more likely to die from heart disease than from a terrorist attack

– You are 33,842 [7] times more likely to die from cancer than from a terrorist attack

(Keep in mind when reading this entire piece that we are consistently and substantially understating the risk of other causes of death as compared to terrorism, because we are comparing deaths from various causes within the United States against deaths from terrorism worldwide.)

Wikipedia notes that there were 32,367 [8] automobile accidents in 2011, which means that you are 1,904 [9]times more likely to die from a car accident than from a terrorist attack.

According to the CDC, your prescription medications are even more likely to kill you [10] than a car crash.  Indeed, in the majority of states, your prescription meds are more likely to kill you [10] than any other source of injury.

But not so fast. The CDC says that some 80,000 [11] deaths each year are attributable to excessive alcohol use, making alcoholism 4,706 [12] times more likely to kill you than a terrorist.

The annual number of deaths in the U.S. due to avoidable medical errors is as high as 100,000 [13]. Indeed, one of the world’s leading medical journals – Lancet – reported [14] in 2011:

A November, 2010, document from the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services reported that, when in hospital, one in seven beneficiaries of Medicare (the government-sponsored health-care programme for those aged 65 years and older) have complications from medical errors, which contribute to about 180 000deaths of patients per year.

That’s just Medicare beneficiaries, not the entire American public. Scientific American noted [15] in 2009:

Preventable medical mistakes and infections are responsible for about 200,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, according to an investigation by the Hearst media corporation.

But let’s use the lower – 100,000 – figure.  That still means that you are 5,882 [16] times more likely to die from medical error than terrorism.

Similarly – as Wikipedia notes [17] – obesity is a a contributing factor in  100,000–400,000 deaths in the United States per year.  That makes obesity much more likely to kill you than a terrorist.

There were at least 155 [18] Americans killed by police officers in the United States in 2011. That means that you were more than 9 [19] times more likely to be killed by a law enforcement officer than by a terrorist.

The agency in charge of workplace safety – the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration – reports that 4,609 [20] workers were killed on the job in 2011 within the U.S. homeland.  In other words, you are 271 [21] times more likely to die from a workplace accident than terrorism.

Let’s switch to 2008, to take advantage of another treasure trove of data.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, 33 [22] U.S. citizens were killed worldwide in 2008 from terrorism.  There were 301,579,895 Americans living on U.S. soil in 2008, so the risk of dying from terrorist attacks in 2008 was 1 in 9,138,785 [23].

This graphic from the National Safety Council [24] – based upon 2008 data – shows the relative risks of dying from various causes:


If the risk of being killed by a terrorist were added to the list, the dot would be so small that it would be hard to see. Specifically, the risk of being killed by terrorism in 2008 was 14 [26] times smaller than being killed by fireworks.

Reason provides some more examples [27]:

[The risk of being killed by terrorism] compares annual risk of dying [28] in a car accident of 1 in 19,000; drowning in a bathtub at 1 in 800,000; dying in a building fire at 1 in 99,000; or being struck by lightning at 1 in 5,500,000. In other words, in the last five years you were four times more likely to be struck by lightning than killed by a terrorist.

The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) has just published, Background Report: 9/11, Ten Years Later [29] [PDF]. The report notes, excluding the 9/11 atrocities, that fewer than 500 people died in the U.S. from terrorist attacks between 1970 and 2010.

Terrorism pushes our emotional buttons.  And politicians and the media tend to blow the risk of terrorism out of proportion.  But as the figures above show,  terrorism is a very unlikely cause of death.

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URLs in this post:

[1] Washington’s Blog: http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2013/04/statistics-you-are-not-going-to-be-killed-by-terrorists.html

[2] noted: http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2011/06/fear-of-terror-makes-people-stupid.html

[3] 17: http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2011/195556.htm

[4] rounds up: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr61/nvsr61_06.pdf

[5] Image: http://www.washingtonsblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/CDC-Mortality-CHart.jpg

[6] 35,079: https://www.google.com/#hl=en&gs_rn=11&gs_ri=psy-ab&gs_mss=596339%20divided%20by%2017%20&tok=duUe66lgoeLquEDcDRFVGQ&pq=596339%20divided%20by%2017%20&cp=4&gs_id=1ri&xhr=t&q=596,339+divided+by+17&es_nrs=true&pf=p&sclient=psy-ab&oq=596,339+divided+by+17+&gs_l=&pbx=1&bav=on.2,or.r_qf.&bvm=bv.45645796,d.cGE&fp=4fb34227f337626b&biw=933&bih=421

[7] 33,842: https://www.google.com/#hl=en&gs_rn=11&gs_ri=psy-ab&gs_mss=596%2C339%20divided%20by%2017%20&tok=duUe66lgoeLquEDcDRFVGQ&pq=596%2C339%20divided%20by%2017&cp=7&gs_id=1z0&xhr=t&q=575,313+divided+by+17&es_nrs=true&pf=p&sclient=psy-ab&oq=575,313+divided+by+17&gs_l=&pbx=1&bav=on.2,or.r_qf.&bvm=bv.45645796,d.cGE&fp=4fb34227f337626b&biw=933&bih=421

[8] 32,367: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_motor_vehicle_deaths_in_U.S._by_year

[9] 1,904: https://www.google.com/#output=search&sclient=psy-ab&q=32%2C367+divided+by+17&oq=32%2C367+divided+by+17&gs_l=hp.3...1250.4280.0.4760.,or.r_qf.&bvm=bv.45645796,d.cGE&fp=4fb34227f337626b&biw=933&bih=421

[10] more likely to kill you: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db81.htm

[11] 80,000: http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm

[12] 4,706: https://www.google.com/search?q=80%2C000+divided+by+17&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a

[13] 100,000: http://www.hhs.gov/secretary/about/opeds/phillainquirer20110425.html

[14] reported: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2811%2960520-5/fulltext?rss=yes

[15] noted: http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/post.cfm?id=deaths-from-avoidable-medical-error-2009-08-10

[16] 5,882: https://www.google.com/search?q=100,000+divided+by+17&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&sei=Fdh8UczeI8GCjAKZkoDoAQ&gbv=2

[17] notes: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obesity_in_the_United_States

[18] 155: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_killings_by_law_enforcement_officers_in_the_United_States_2011

[19] 9: https://www.google.com/search?q=155+divided+by+17&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a

[20] 4,609: http://www.osha.gov/oshstats/commonstats.html

[21] 271: https://www.google.com/#output=search&sclient=psy-ab&q=4%2C609+divided+by+17&oq=4%2C609+divided+by+17&gs_l=hp.3...688.4044.0.4767.,or.r_qf.&bvm=bv.45645796,d.cGE&fp=4fb34227f337626b&biw=933&bih=437

[22] 33: http://blogs.cfr.org/zenko/2012/09/27/tracking-u-s-citizens-deaths-by-terrorism/

[23] 9,138,785: https://www.google.com/search?q=301%2C579%2C895+divided+by+33&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a

[24] National Safety Council: http://www.nsc.org/NSC%20Picture%20Library/News/web_graphics/Injury_Facts_37.pdf

[25] Image: http://www.washingtonsblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Risk-of-Death.jpg

[26] 14: https://www.google.com/search?q=652%2C046+divided+by+9%2C138%2C785&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a#client=firefox-a&hs=Ph2&hl=en&rls=org.mozilla:en-US%3Aofficial&sclient=psy-ab&q=9%2C138%2C785+divided+by+652%2C046&oq=9%2C138%2C785+divided+by+652%2C046&gs_l=serp.3...4721.15879.0.16378.,or.r_qf.&bvm=bv.45645796,d.cGE&fp=4fb34227f337626b&biw=933&bih=399

[27] more examples: http://reason.com/archives/2011/09/06/how-scared-of-terrorism-should

[28] compares annual risk of dying: http://danger.mongabay.com/injury_death.htm

[29] Background Report: 9/11, Ten Years Later: http://www.start.umd.edu/start/announcements/BackgroundReport_10YearsSince9_11.pdf

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