Big Cities Are Safer Than Rural Counties


tractor fallen over

Back in the early 1990s, when I lived in the East Village, I would enjoy whiling away nights at the Loisaida bar, Safety in Numbers. The motivating idea behind the bar's name was that aspiring black-clad hipsters like me were supposed to be safer in that dangerous neighborhood when traveling in packs.

I love big cities the way that a kid who grew up on an Appalachian dairy farm can only do—with fierce devotion. A new study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine that has taken its title from my favorite poetry slam venue, "Safety in Numbers: Are Major Cities the Safest Places in the United States?" compares injury death rates between crowded big cities and rural solitude. Using data from 1999 to 2006, it turns out that with respect to dying from injuries people are much safer in Times Square than they are riding the range. The study reports:

The overall injury death rate increased with increasing rurality, and a significant difference between the injury death rate in the most rural compared with the most urban counties was identified (difference of 24.0 per 100,000 to 31.6 per 100,000)….

Despite public perception to the contrary, when all types of injuries are considered together, rural areas, not urban, bear a disproportionate amount of injury-related mortality risk in the United States. Although variability among urban areas clearly exists, when urban areas were considered as a group, risk of serious injury resulting in death was approximately 20% lower than in the most rural areas of the country. Although our findings support the belief that homicide rates and risk of homicide are significantly higher in urban areas compared with rural, we demonstrate that the magnitude of homicide-related deaths, even in urban areas, is outweighed by the magnitude of unintentional injury deaths, particularly those resulting from motor vehicles. In fact, the rate of unintentional injury death is more than 15 times that of homicide among the entire population, with the risk resting heavily in rural areas such that the risk of unintentional injury death is 40% higher in the most rural counties compared with the most urban.

I will note that the homicide rate in New York City has fallen by 80 percent since the 1990s, and in fact there were only 418 murders in 2012, the lowest total since record keeping began in the 1960s. The Big Apple is now practically an adult Disney World.