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.
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.”