Study: Living in a City Makes You Safer

Everyone knows that big American cities are risky, dangerous places — right? Not so fast. A new study published in the Journal of Injury Prevention [PDF] says the conventional wisdom on the safety of cities is backwards.

Because the incidence of fatal traffic injuries is higher in rural areas, those places are actually more dangerous than cities, a new study shows. Image: ##http://webclass.lakeland.cc.il.us/ems/##Lakeland CC##

According to the research, people who live in rural areas are 22 percent more likely to suffer fatal injuries —  the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 1 and 44 — than people who live in cities. And the further you live away from the city, the more likely you are to die from injury.

The reason boils down to — surprise, surprise — transportation and land use patterns. While people who live in urban areas are more likely to killed by gun violence, people who live in rural areas are far more likely to die in a car crash. And overall, many more people are killed in traffic than are killed with guns.

The research team compiled eight years of data from 3,100 American counties. All told, the rate of motor vehicle fatalities was 15 per 100,000 people over the eight years, while firearm deaths, including suicides, accounted for 10 deaths per 100,000 people.

In the most rural counties, motor vehicle death rates were as high as 28 per 100,000. This discrepancy helps explain why the research team found that the overall risk of injury-related death rose in tandem with distance from the city center.

So, about that fear of cities: According to author Dr. Sage R. Myers and the research team, it is “driven by analyses that focus only on specific types or causes of injuries and by the individual ability to misconceive risk.” When you look at the actual risk of violent death, “large cities appear to be the safest counties in the United States, significantly safer than their rural counterparts.”

  • Anonymous

    anyone know what the rate of random gun deaths is? (i.e. not including suicides, domestic violence and other crime where the perpertrator knows the victim)

  • Daniel Winks

    @com63:disqus Basically 0. It’s exceptionally rare for a random person to shoot another random person. Now, if you are involved with drugs, gambling, or live with/right next to someone who is, then your chances are remarkably higher. The number of people shot for no reason while walking out to check their mail, etc, is basically nil. Media loves to hype things up, which is why it seems like it’s high. Same for child abductions. There’s all of like 5 children abducted and killed per year that were abducted by a total stranger, yet “stranger danger” is always all over the news.

  • Anonymous

    I’d be curious to see this work done at a little more detailed-level, either by city or even census block. Counties oftentimes include wide ranges of living styles (for example, in the Twin Cities, Hennepin County includes Minneapolis but also suburbs like Eden Prairie, Plymouth, and very rural areas like Independence, Rogers, etc).

    I know the data would be difficult to parse, but I’m curious how many car crash deaths that occurred in the cities themselves were a result of drivers from suburban/rural areas commuting in – ie, would they have been avoided if a larger percent of metro residents had chosen to get around by foot/bike/transit due to different live/work locations.

    Just some thoughts.

  • Brian

    tell that to the German tourist lady who was shot dead in San Francisco after stepping out of her hotel room with her husband…cause of death….caught in crossfire of thug kids shooting at each other (and they just wanted to go to dinner)…random shootings happen more than you think.

  • Anonymous

    Tell that to the family of the German tourist that was hit by a drunk driver on Masonic…

    Statistically, the chance of getting hit by a stray bullet is paltry compared to people who are killed in car accidents or hit by cars as pedestrians or while riding bikes. It doesn’t mean it never happens.

  • Brian

    I’m not arguing that, I’m arguing Daniel’s comment above that said it never happens…

  • Anonymous

    actually he said “It’s exceptionally rare for a random person to shoot another random person”

  • Brian

    Actually at one point he said “Basically 0” and another time he said “is basically nil.” so he wasn’t being clear…at all, I was pointing out that it does IN FACT happen…maybe you should scrutinize his comment a little more than mine. Thanks.

  • Anonymous

    I think basically before the 0 means that it does happen, but compared to other causes of death, it’s basically 0. Random shootings do not happen more than I think, I pay attention to exactly how many happen in SF, when, and where.

  • Brian

    NOT THAT RARE…and this is just Chicago, we have Oakland across the way where it’s happened more than once this year alone:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeff-kelly-lowenstein/chicago-violence-gun-reform_b_2344714.html

  • Anonymous

    You haven’t really understood the statement:

    “It’s exceptionally rare for a random person to shoot another random person. Now, if you are involved with drugs, gambling, or live with/right next to someone who is, then your chances are remarkably higher. The number of people shot for no reason while walking out to check their mail, etc, is basically nil. Media loves to hype things up, which is why it seems like it’s high.”

    no one is saying people don’t get shot or killed by guns, it’s just that people rarely randomly shoot other people. People are usually shot by someone they know, and they’re usually shot for a reason (even if it’s a poor one).

  • Anonymous

    This makes a lot of sense and I think it’s an interesting thread to pursue further. For example: my mom worries about me because I don’t live in the greatest neighborhood in a city, but I worried more about my mom when she commuted 100 miles by car on rural roads every day before she retired.

  • Daniel Winks

    “Basically 0” does not mean 0, otherwise I would have said that. Basically 0 means it does happen, but it’s such a rare, random occurrence it’s worth worrying about about as much as getting hit by a meteorite. The German tourist appears to have been shot in Union Square plaza, which doesn’t appear to be one of the rougher parts of SF, so she’d be the random, statistically aberrant person killed by a random other person. Most often, people ‘caught in crossfire’ tend to get caught in horrible parts of a city, where such things are a much more common occurrence.

    Also note that a press conference was held and the mayor made a personal statement about this occurrence. When one drug dealer shoots another in, say, Tenderloin, I doubt the mayor is making speeches at press conferences. One is a tragedy while the other is ‘business as usual’.

    When things like bees, falling in the tub, lightning, meteorites, falling tree limbs, and falling out of the bed have a statistically higher chance of killing you than getting hit by random gunfire, I think that “basically nil” is an appropriate measure.

    Would people move their entire house, spend an extra 30 minutes a day driving, etc, all to, say, halve their chance of getting killed by lightning? No, they wouldn’t. The chance of such an occurrence is already so low that halving it wouldn’t make a meaningful impact in risk. Not to mention rural areas probably have higher random gunfire from hunters, firing higher power weapons and rifles with many times the range of hand guns, so until there’s an exhaustive study done, I couldn’t imagine the chances of getting killed by a random bullet in the country to be much, if any, lower than in the city.

  • Daniel Winks

    “Basically 0” does not mean 0, otherwise I would have said that. Basically 0 means it does happen, but it’s such a rare, random occurrence it’s worth worrying about about as much as getting hit by a meteorite. The German tourist appears to have been shot in Union Square plaza, which doesn’t appear to be one of the rougher parts of SF, so she’d be the random, statistically aberrant person killed by a random other person. Most often, people ‘caught in crossfire’ tend to get caught in horrible parts of a city, where such things are a much more common occurrence.

    Also note that a press conference was held and the mayor made a personal statement about this occurrence. When one drug dealer shoots another in, say, Tenderloin, I doubt the mayor is making speeches at press conferences. One is a tragedy while the other is ‘business as usual’.

    When things like bees, falling in the tub, lightning, meteorites, falling tree limbs, and falling out of the bed have a statistically higher chance of killing you than getting hit by random gunfire, I think that “basically nil” is an appropriate measure.

    Would people move their entire house, spend an extra 30 minutes a day driving, etc, all to, say, halve their chance of getting killed by lightning? No, most wouldn’t. The chance of such an occurrence is already so low that halving it wouldn’t make a meaningful impact in risk. Not to mention rural areas probably have higher random gunfire from hunters, firing higher power weapons and rifles with many times the range of hand guns, so until there’s an exhaustive study done, I couldn’t imagine the chances of getting killed by a random bullet in the country to be much, if any, lower than in the city.

  • Daniel Winks

    “Basically 0” does not mean 0, otherwise I would have said that. Basically 0 means it does happen, but it’s such a rare, random occurrence it’s worth worrying about about as much as getting hit by a meteorite. The German tourist appears to have been shot in Union Square plaza, which doesn’t appear to be one of the rougher parts of SF, so she’d be the random, statistically aberrant person killed by a random other person. Most often, people ‘caught in crossfire’ tend to get caught in horrible parts of a city, where such things are a much more common occurrence.

    Also note that a press conference was held and the mayor made a personal statement about this occurrence. When one drug dealer shoots another in, say, Tenderloin, I doubt the mayor is making speeches at press conferences. One is a tragedy while the other is ‘business as usual’.

    When things like bees, falling in the tub, lightning, meteorites, falling tree limbs, and falling out of the bed have a statistically higher chance of killing you than getting hit by random gunfire, I think that “basically nil” is an appropriate measure.

    Would people move their entire house, spend an extra 30 minutes a day driving, etc, all to, say, halve their chance of getting killed by lightning? No, most wouldn’t. The chance of such an occurrence is already so low that halving it wouldn’t make a meaningful impact in risk. Not to mention rural areas probably have higher random gunfire from hunters, firing higher power weapons and rifles with many times the range of hand guns, so until there’s an exhaustive study done, I couldn’t imagine the chances of getting killed by a random bullet in the country to be much, if any, lower than in the city.

  • Anonymous

    All of these things can be categorized as “rare”. Numbers were all that I was looking for. If vehicle accidents are 15 per 100,000, firearms are 10 per 100,000, what is the random firearm number? 1 per 100,000? 0.01 per 100,000?

  • Anonymous

    All of these things can be categorized as “rare”. Numbers were all that I was looking for. If vehicle accidents are 15 per 100,000, firearms are 10 per 100,000, what is the random firearm number? 1 per 100,000? 0.01 per 100,000?

  • Gerald Fittipaldi

    What about suburbs?

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