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Last updated Sept. 21, 2009

When you're cleaning your house, should you be more scared of your washing machine or your vacuum cleaner? If you had to choose, should you ride with a teen driver or a 90-year-old driver? We asked Fred Kilbourne, actuary with The Kilbourne Company in San Diego, to help us figure out our risks. Many thanks to him for the insights below.

What's the most dangerous appliance in the house?

Washing machines are more likely to injure you but clothes dryers are more likely to kill you. On the other hand, floor-care equipment causes more injuries than either washers or dryers.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission reported annual medically attended injury costs of $1.1 billion for floor care equipment, $0.8 billion for washing machines and $0.3 billion for clothing dryers.

What's more dangerous: Lightning or hail?


Don't stand under that tree. Lightning has, on average, killed 42 people in United States every year for the last 10 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But there have been very few recorded instances of hail kills in the U.S., the last known fatality being a baby in Colorado in 1979.

Note that you are slightly more likely to be killed by lightning than to die in a plane crash, but you are more likely to be killed by a meteor strike than by lightning. How do you figure? A very large meteor or comet could wipe out mankind, whereas lightning generally kills only one person at a time.

What's more dangerous in the backyard: A trampoline or a swimming pool?


Trampolines send nearly 100,000 people to the emergency room each year but cause very few deaths. More than 1,000 Americans die each year in swimming pools.

What's more dangerous: Ebola, SARS, TB or the flu?

Ebola has killed about 1,000 people worldwide since it was discovered in 1976. SARS killed about 1,000 at its peak (so far) in 2003. Tuberculosis still kills about 2 million people annually. Influenza kills a few hundred thousand people in an average year, but in 1918 it killed more people (50 million to 100 million) than any pandemic in history (including the bubonic plague).

But don't count out the plague yet: You are more likely to die of bubonic plague (which is endemic among ground squirrels in the West) than to be killed by a mountain lion.

What's the most dangerous age?

After our 20s, our mortality rates increase each year, so the most dangerous age is the oldest (the max is about 120). The first year of life is more dangerous than any other age below about 60.

What's the most dangerous ride at an amusement park?

Over a recent 10-year period, about half of amusement park deaths were related to roller coasters, one-fourth to water rides, and the remaining quarter to other park facilities.

It's no safer at the beach: You are about equally likely to be killed by a roller coaster or a shark.

What's more dangerous: Bees or sharks?



In this case, danger comes in small packages: You are 50 times more likely to be killed by a bee than by a shark.

What's more dangerous: A car or a gun?

You are substantially more likely to be killed by a car than by a gun.

The annual death highway dealth toll exceeds 40,000, whereas gunshot fatalities in a recent year totaled about 33,000 — consisting of suicides (18,000), murders (14,000) and accidents (1,000) — according to "The Statistical Abstract of the United States" from the U.S. Census Bureau.

What's more dangerous: Driving drunk or driving stoned?



The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that about 2 percent of the U.S. driving population is drunk, but that this 2 percent causes about 40 percent of auto fatalities. NHTSA surveys indicate that about 8 percent of these drunkards also tested positive for marijuana, 4 percent for cocaine, and another 4 percent for other legal and illegal drugs. Kilbourne says that comparing these numbers can be misleading because alcohol metabolizes fairly quickly, while other drugs can be detected for weeks after ingestion. In addition, the 2 percent figure refers to drivers who were legally drunk, whereas the amounts of other drugs detected often fell short of seriously impairing the driver.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data indicates that about 18 percent of driver fatalities involved drugs other than alcohol ? but that many of those also involved alcohol, which presumably was often the underlying cause of the accident.

Kilbourne says, putting all this together, he concludes that driving drunk is generally more dangerous than driving stoned.

What's more dangerous: Driving 20 mph drunk or driving 90 mph sober?

Fatalities can result from driving at even very low speeds, but the risk of death due to driving drunk at 20 mph is fairly low unless the drunk gets in the way of a car going much faster. Also, the danger of going 90 mph is greater partly because the sober driver probably isn't going with the flow of traffic (a safety issue), and also because the relative force involved in a 90 mph crash is much greater than a 20 mph crash.

All things considered, it seems it's more dangerous to drive 90 mph sober than to drive 20 mph drunk.

What's more dangerous: A teen driver or a
90-year-old driver?



Kilbourne says he would take a ride with the old-timer before riding with the teen, but he'd be nervous in either case.

Population data indicates that about 3 percent of the U.S. population is age 16 to 19 and about 0.5 percent is 90 or older. Texas data for a recent year shows 189 deaths among teen drivers age 16 to 19 and 11 deaths among drivers 90 or older.

This (admittedly small) sample implies that the teen death rate is about triple the older drivers' death rate, but drivers in their 90s certainly drive less than teenagers, which increases their car-crash fatality rates on a per-mile basis.

What's more dangerous: Texting or drinking coffee while driving?



It's more dangerous to text than to drink coffee while driving because you have to look away from the road to the cell phone.

What's the most dangerous city in the world, and in the United States?

According to Real Clear World, the most dangerous city in the world is Mogadishu, Somalia (due to running gun battles, also the subject of the book Black Hawk Down), followed by Ciudad, Mexico (due to kidnappings, torture and murders by rival drug cartels and others), and Linfen, China (due to air pollution). Then there's Caracas, Venezuela (due to murders) and, in fifth place, Detroit (due to violent crime, although Forbes now ranks New Orleans as more dangerous than Detroit).

What's more dangerous: Living on top of the San Andreas fault line in California or living at the foot of Mount St. Helens in Washington state?

The greatest recorded loss of life due to earthquake was about 830,000 (in China in 1556) and due to volcano was just 92,000 (in Indonesia in 1815). More recently, there was the earthquake-caused tsunami of 2004 (220,000 deaths) and the Krakatoa volcano explosion of 1883 (36,000 deaths).

Furthermore, earthquakes are far more common than volcano events (most of which aren't explosions), so it's probably more dangerous to live on top of the San Andreas fault than at the foot of Mount St. Helens.

What's the most dangerous occupation in
the United States?

Coal miner? Crab fisherman? No, the most dangerous occupation has been that of our most prominent citizen: the President of the United States. Nine percent of our presidents have been assassinated: Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, William McKinley and John F. Kennedy.