DOH Report on Child Deaths Offers No Solutions to Biggest Problem: Traffic

fatal_injury_graph.jpg"Non-Transport Accidents" includes burns from fire and scalding liquids, falls, and several other causes of injury. "Transportation Accidents" is mainly comprised of kids on foot killed by autos. Chart: NYC Department of Health.

Yesterday the Department of Health released its yearly report on child fatalities [PDF], which focuses on deaths due to injury. This year’s report goes into terrific detail about causes of death inside the home, but when it comes to the most widespread cause of unintentional injuries that kill kids — traffic — the document doesn’t say much.

Injuries took the lives of 388 New York City children from 2001 to 2007, and if you break down the specific causes of unintentional fatalities cited in the report, the single biggest risk to kids appears to be traffic.

I say "appears" since the report presents information on traffic deaths in a rather indirect fashion. 77 kids age 12 and under were killed by motor vehicle crashes that "involved child pedestrians." This data comes on page 21 of a 29-page document. No graph or chart shows traffic deaths side-by-side with other specific causes of death. It’s not until page 23 that one learns "motor vehicle-related accidents (occurring on streets and roadways) remain the largest contributor to child injury deaths overall."

I mention this because the purpose of the report is "to inform policies, laws, regulations, and prevention activities in order to prevent future deaths." To make those policies and laws effective, you need to have a clear picture of relative risk. Preventing deaths from, say, poisoning is certainly important, but preventing deaths from traffic would save more lives by a huge margin. There are broad implications for police, legislators, and planners that follow.

Yet, in its recommendations, the report only touches on measures to improve safety inside the home. It’s a stark change from the initial report released by the Health Department’s Child Fatality Review Team in 2007 [PDF].

That document focused intently on traffic-related injuries and deaths. It included a long list of recommendations, touching on the need for speed cameras, safe routes to school, and trucks designed to improve drivers’ vision of the street.

We sent a request in to the Health Department to determine why this year’s report includes no such recommendations. A spokesperson emailed this reply:

The 2007 CFRT report focused on child deaths related to motor vehicle accidents, the leading cause of child injury deaths among children in New York City overall. The 2008 report focused on fire- and burn-related deaths, the City’s second leading cause of unintentional injury-related deaths among children ages 1-12. The 2009 report builds on findings from the previous reports and presents an in-depth case review of fatal unintentional child injuries in the home, as homes represent the most common setting for fatal childhood injuries.

Maybe officials don’t see the need to repeat the conclusions of a previous report. But that hardly seems like a sufficient reason to downplay traffic as a threat to public health. If New Yorkers are still dying from Swine Flu two years from now, will we stop trying to highlight that danger too?

  • Bravo to Ben Fried and Streetsblog for deconstructing the flaws in the NYCDOH report so skillfully. I know I’ve said this before, but I’m constantly impressed with this blog’s ability to deliver a radical perspective with such reasonableness and persuasiveness.

  • Anonymous

    What part of the pie chart above and the authors’ rationale do you not undestand? Non-traffic deaths make up 39% while transport make up 29%. They already did a report on traffic deaths. I personally think they gave good reason for focusing on child deaths in the home. As a father, I certainly think this is a neglected issue (and I’m an avid cyclist too so I’m not dismissing the problem with our streets). A child just drowned in a bucket this week if you havent heard.

    Issues of safety for children do not have to be discussed is such a divisive manner. Caring about all causes of accidents is important!

  • Ben, the report makes it pretty clear that it is not a report on annual child fatalities, but an annual report on child fatalities. They’ve done three of them: one on motor vehicles, one on burns, and this most recent one on home injuries. For all three, the data set extends back to 2001, so it’s clear that it’s not about “last year.”

    I don’t see it as a “stark change” from previous reports; rather, I think it’s important that they don’t get hung up on one single modality of injury. Bravo, DOHMH!

  • anon

    Ben, you’ve got it wrong. The report did not downplay traffic crashes. They are discussed in the second half of a report that focuses on home-based fatalities. Accidents in the home are tragedies that people often think are unavoidable, but the report includes steps parents and caretakers can take to lessen risk. I do not think its very cool of you to mischaracterize the intentions of the report. Are you that mired in your own agenda?

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