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In 2006, colleagues and I published a study of US traffic deaths during 1982–2001.1 There were 858 741 deaths, and we estimated that (a) 366 607 could be attributed to alcohol use, (b) 259 239 to not wearing a seat belt, (c) 31 377 to lack of an air bag, (d) 12 095 to not wearing a motorcycle helmet, and (e) 10 552 to not wearing a bicycle helmet. Jointly, these factors accounted for 528 105 deaths, 61% of all the traffic deaths; this joint total was less than the sum of the five counts because some deaths could be assigned to more than one factor.
To estimate the counts above, we used attributable fractions.2–5 Imagine a hypothetical series of 100 unhelmeted motorcycle drivers who died; how many of those deaths would have been prevented if all the drivers had worn a helmet? The risk of death in a motorcycle crash has been reported to be greater for an unhelmeted motorcycle driver than for an otherwise similar driver who was helmeted: risk …
Competing interests: None.