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Accidental Deaths Up After 20-Year Decline

A new report from the National Safety Council says the number of preventable, fatal accidents is on the rise after many years of decline.

According to the report, the number of deaths has risen more than 20 percent over a 10-year period, reaching 113,000 in 2005, according to the latest data available. The National Safety Council (NSC) warns that "at the current rate, the nation's all-time high of 116,385 accidental deaths, set in 1969, could be surpassed in the next few years."

"For people between 1 and 41 years of age, accidents are the leading cause of death in the nation," the report says. "While accidents continue to be the fifth-leading cause of death overall, exceeded only by heart disease, cancer, stroke and chronic lower respiratory diseases, accidental deaths are increasing at a greater rate than that of any of the top four causes of death."

Among accidental deaths, the report says, the three top causes were accidents with motor vehicles, poisonings and falls.

NSC President and CEO Alan McMillan visited The Early Show Friday to help pinpoint the causes behind the data. Anchor Harry Smith asked him which accidental cause was the most surprising.

"I think there's some surprising findings in each of these categories," McMillan said. "In motor vehicles, we continue to see unusually high numbers. And there are things that we all know about. There are things like speeding, distractions, not wearing seat belts. And interestingly, we're seeing a huge increase in motorcycle fatalities and in the over 45-year-old age group" attributable to middle-aged folks who decide to take up the hobby. He notes that a number of states have repealed their helmet laws during the past few years, and says no one should get on a motorcycle without a helmet.

People who multitask while they drive are likely behind the rise in motor vehicle fatalities. "The technology and the world that we live in, distractions are growing more and more every day," McMillan said. "And cell phones are one of the leading things that distract people when they're driving a car. Interestingly, a lot of people believe that if they use a hands-free cell phone that they're safer. Unfortunately, the data shows there's hardly (any) difference."

When "poisonings" are mentioned as a cause of death, in most cases it has nothing to do with cleaning solvents or other household chemicals. "We're talking about drugs, prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, and unfortunately, a number of cases, illegal
Drugs," McMillan said. "We're really talking about the 20-year-old to about 40-year-old age group."

According to the report, poisoning, particularly from overdoses of over-the-counter, prescription and illicit drugs, is now the fastest-rising cause of accidental death with a 5 percent increase last year alone.

Deaths from falls rank third, with choking and drowning rounding out the top five, says the Council. Those five causes account for 83 percent of all accidental deaths.