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As ADAS and autonomous vehicles start moving from test tracks to public roads, people everywhere are debating about whether human-driven cars or autonomously controlled cars are more apt to get you killed on the road. I personally don’t see the point in arguing about which crashes are most to fear when more people die by suicide each year than by car crash – of any kind.
According to CDC research from 2018, suicide killed 14 percent more people than cars.
A more critical statistic
According to WHO, 800,000 people die by suicide every year, which is one person every 40 seconds. Sadly, this global phenomenon occurs throughout a person’s lifespan. Research also shows that for each adult who dies by suicide there may be more than 20 others who attempt it – that’s 16 million people a year!
In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released statistics in 2018 showing that 33,687 people died in vehicle accidents while 38,364 died by suicide – that’s nearly 5,000 or 14 percent more people. And this doesn’t take unsuccessful attempts into account. Let’s put this in perspective.
While you were getting ready for work this morning, in the first hour of your day, as many as five people in the US killed themselves. By lunchtime that number jumped to 20. By the end of your workday, more than 40 people in the US will have taken their own lives. In the next 24-hour period, as many as 111 people in the US will commit suicide.
These numbers are staggering. And truly heartbreaking. However, if you look at the single-car, single-occupant car crash, the picture is even more disturbing.
Single-car, single-occupant crashes are suspect
Hiding in the statistics is the fact that a significant percentage of fatal car crashes may not be accidental but intentional. It is extremely difficult to identify car-crash suicides not just because of the complexities involved in determining intent and motivation but also because of the reluctance to label these crashes as suicides without concrete evidence, such as a suicide note. This makes true classification difficult since most people who die by suicide do not leave a note.
Studies have estimated that vehicle-committed suicides may be as high as six percent.
By disguising their deaths as car accidents, people who take their lives in this way spare their loved ones the stigma, guilt, and anger of suicide, as well as providing them with the financial security of an insurance payout. Studies have estimated that vehicle-committed suicides may be as high as six percent, and in the US, single-vehicle fatalities are more common than collision fatalities. The correlation between suicide and accidents is also interesting in another aspect: the suicide rates by age group are highest for the elderly who comprise a significant 18% of car fatalities.
Still one of society’s biggest stigmas
Health professionals consider suicide to be an epidemic. Despite this, government and private funding for mental health research is a fraction of other more “causes célèbres” like breast cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, or AIDS. Yet the CDC believes more than half of Americans who die by suicide have no known mental health problems. To me that doesn’t mean that people committing suicide don’t have mental health issues – it means that they’ve not been diagnosed.
Mental health is still one of society’s biggest stigmas. Nobody wants to share that they’re depressed or have distressing thoughts, even among loved ones. The few who recognize and admit that they have mental health problems often do not seek treatment. And those that do are rarely willing to share an issue publicly for fear of reprisal, mistrust, or isolation. Yet mental health challenges are exceedingly commonplace – one in five of us suffers from them. Yours truly among them.
Rather than a focus on driving fatalities, why don’t we redirect our energy into solving mental health challenges and erasing the stigma that goes with them?
Self-driving cars will undoubtedly lessen the number of deaths on the road. And with their ADAS features and automated control, they may also thwart vehicular suicide by preventing drivers from creating intentional crashes. However, if all of this data is right, we may see dropping car-crash fatalities accompanied by rising rates of suicide by other means. Rather than a focus on preventing driving fatalities, maybe we should redirect our time and money into solving mental health challenges and erasing the stigma that goes with them.