I have a running joke. It’s not all that funny, really, except in a dark sort of way. When you’re involved in the field of occupant protection, you’re over the hill at 35. Why? According to the Centers for Disease Control, motor vehicle traffic is the #1 cause of death for age groups 5-9, 10-14, 15-24 and 25-34. *
What happens at 35? Well, it’s not that people are dying less in crashes. Motor vehicle crashes are by far the #1 cause of death for 25-34 year olds, but the number of crash fatalities only drop slightly for the 35-44 age group. What changes are the other factors. Malignant Neoplasms nearly quadruple to become the #1 cause, followed closely by heart disease (that also nearly quadruple). Poisoning increases significantly to the #3 cause. MV crashes are 4th, nearly even with suicide.
At 34, you’re still in that youthful age group that can signifcantly decrease their overall risk of death by buckling up, driving undistracted/unimpaired and selecting a safer vehicle. Once you hit 35**, you also rely a little more on a healthy lifestyle, some luck, and perhaps on faith and prayer. I’ve done a bit of the latter lately, as I had my own “35-44″ scare. My running joke has become a little less funny, too. I won’t go into details here, but suffice to say that my last test result came in negative for cancer and I’m feeling 34 today! ***
*For the age group 1-4, motor vehicle traffic ranked as the 2nd leading cause of death behind “Congenital Anomalies” through 2004. For 2005, the most recent year of WISQARS data, the incidence of motor vehicle traffic fatalities had dropped enough to rank it third, behind drowning as well. With more education and acceptance on proper restraints for children, I think it is easily possible to drop motor vehicle crashes out of the top 5 in this age group, below Malignant Neoplasms, Homicide and Fire/Burns. I would like to see this happen before one of the “55-64″ gets me (MV crashes are around the 7th leading cause for that age group). That’s 15 years to see motor vehicle crash related fatalities cut in half for kids 1-4 years old.
**Of course I know your risks don’t change dramatically the day you turn 35, it’s just an age group convenient for reporting purposes. Cut me some slack.
***But I’ll still be wearing my seatbelt as I cruise the neighborhood in my minivan.