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Five things that are more likely to kill you than terrorism

November 18, 2010

2,936 people were murdered by terrorists in the attacks of September 11th, 2001. That’s a lot of people; and it’s a scary thought that one day, out of nowhere, some random person who you’ve never met could kill you because they don’t happen to like what your country stands for. That said, how likely is it that such a thing will actually happen to you? Well, as you might have guessed, not likely at all.

In fact, death by terror attack is seriously rare. There are plenty of other things that are more likely to kill you on any given day in the United States. Here are five of them:

  1. Car accidents. We’ll just get this one out of the way early. According to the NHTSA, from 2001 to 2009 an average of 31,248 vehicle occupants (drivers and passengers) were killed in traffic accidents in the US each year. This means that about 86 people got into a car every single day this decade and died on the way to where they were going. Another way to look at at it? By midnight on February 4th, 2001 – just 35 days into the new millennium and more than 7 months before 9/11 – more people had died in car accidents in the United States than would be killed by terrorism in the 10 years to come.
  2. Walking down the street. From the same NHTSA statistics page comes the not so surprising data that 42,093 pedestrians were killed by motorists from 2001 to 2009. If the numbers hold up through the end of this year, then about 47,000 people will die – 16 times more than were killed by terrorism – just because they have legs and decided to use them.
  3. You. In 2007 (the last year I could find statistics for) the CDC reports that 34,598 people in the United States committed suicide. That’s 12 times as many people than died as a result of terrorism this decade – and that number represents just one year’s worth of data.
  4. The weather. The Nation Weather Service reports that 5,009 people were killed in the US by severe weather between 2001 and 2009. Sure that’s not a lot, but if the yearly average holds up for this year as well it’ll still be almost twice as many people this decade as terrorism. Yet we don’t hunt Mother Nature with nearly the same vigor as Osama Bin Laden. The budget request for the National Weather Service for 2010 was $963.9 million. The estimated cost of the war in Afghanistan alone for that same year was $104.9 billion.
  5. The person sleeping next to you. The statistics on this are a bit fuzzy; but, according to wikipedia, 1,642 people were murdered by an intimate partner in 1999 and 1,510 in 2005. I’ll take the average and say that somewhere around 1,550 men and women are murdered by their spouses each year. Over 10 years that’s 15,500 people – or more than 5 times more people than died on 9/11. Of course that’s just an estimate, but it still tells you that you should be more concerned that your next significant other will kill you than some random terrorist.

Now, I’m not trying to discount the real fear that people can have about the unknown. I was living in New York City on September 11th, 2001, and it was a seriously scary place to be; but I do want us all to have some perspective here. The numbers are clear – you’re really, really, really unlikely to be killed by terrorism. Remember that the next time someone asks you to give away a little freedom or money in the name of “national security.” And if you can think other good examples like the ones above, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. steve permalink
    May 11, 2012 4:56 pm

    I believe choking on food kills about 800 a year in the US which is about twice the number killed by terrorism in the rest of the world combined, excluding Israel.

    I think some of our federal dollars should go on a ‘chewing awareness plan’, or compelling the less capable chewers to eat soup.

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