US Your brain is to blame for the uptick in accidental deaths

23:45  19 june  2017
23:45  19 june  2017 Source:   USA TODAY

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We've maxed out safety measures, psychologist Steve Casner says. Now it's on us to not die unexpectedly.© Michael Blann, Getty Images We've maxed out safety measures, psychologist Steve Casner says. Now it's on us to not die unexpectedly.

One in 20 people died of an accident in 1918, according to Steve Casner, a NASA psychologist who studies safety. That death rate plunged to 1 in 40 by 1992, after decades of new laws, warning labels and awareness campaigns.

But then, in 2000, that accidental death rate rose again, he notes. It hasn't stopped since, with car crash fatalities spiking 8% in 2015 alone.

We've done all we can to maximize safety through innovation and regulation, Casner argues in a new book, Careful: A User's Guide to Our Injury-Prone Minds. Now it's up to us to override our own wiring if we want to stem a tide of accidental deaths, he says.

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We've maxed out safety measures, psychologist Steve Casner says. Now it's on us to not die unexpectedly. (Photo: Michael Blann, Getty Images). CONNECTTWEET LINKEDINCOMMENTEMAILMORE.

Casner, a skateboarder and jet pilot, is no worrywart, but he says "we've wrung all the big gains we're going to get from putting rubber corners on stuff and saying, 'Hey, don't do that,'" adding that the "next safety revolution is going to have to happen in our own minds."

Among the painful data Casner collected: Kitchen-knife related injuries put about 330,000 Americans in an emergency room each year (hello, "avocado hand"). Bunk beds land some 36,000 kids in the E.R. annually, while washing machines rack up 40,000 or so emergency-level injuries each year.

There are several reasons why accidents may be on the rise, Casner writes, from distracting technology to the rise of risky sports like rock climbing. More of us now live into old age, he notes, when frail bodies fail us. And then there's a do-it-yourself culture that finds us constantly fixing and building things around the house, where 50% of all fatal accidents happen.

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But as the New Yorker's Joshua Rothman notes in his review of the book, "The core problem is that minds wander." Our brains lack focus, underestimate risks and go on autopilot far too frequently, Casner argues, often without us realizing it.

This safety crisis, then, demands we retrain our stubborn minds, adopting intentional habits of thinking into our everyday, injury-laden lives, Casner writes. Parents can pass off a "Water Watcher Card" when kids are in the pool, which reminds the holder to do nothing but keep eyes on young swimmers until relieved, or yell "hands clear" before slamming a car door — potentially on a tiny finger. No one sticks to such procedures perfectly, he says, but every effort helps.

"Even the greatest safety tips and inventions only managed to inch us gradually in the direction of being more careful," Casner writes. "Working a new way of being more careful into our routines won't be any easier or faster."

[h/t The New Yorker]

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