Surprising causes behind the most common incidents
More than 305 million people visit U.S. national parks each year. The National Park Service reports an average of 160 visitor deaths annually. Those are pretty good statistics, but they could be lower. And the types of injuries and fatalities reported in these parks can happen to anyone in the great outdoors, whether hiking, camping or participating in outdoor sports.
The best way to avoid injuries in these settings is to plan and prepare well. Choose activities that match the experience and skills of everyone involved, Gather information about weather and the environment prior to setting out and ask about specific hazards in the area upon arrival at your destination. And, of course, always follow the posted rules and regulations. Use of the buddy system can also go a long way in lowering the risk for injury or death: two sets of eyes and ears are better than one.
Below are six of the most common causes of injuries and death in the great outdoors:
- Drowning is the most common cause of death in national parks. Sadly, drowning while swimming incidents have increased every year, from 32 in 2007 to 59 in 2013. Boaters, kayakers and rafters also account for many drownings, while fewer than 10 resulted from rip currents.
- Vehicular accidents in national parks, surprisingly, account for the second most frequent cause of death in national parks. The National Park Service reported 143 fatalities between 2007and 2013, despite the lack of heavily trafficked roads. Reckless drivers exist everywhere. Six of the accidents involved bicyclists, seven involved pedestrians and 42 of those who died were on motorcycles.
- Severe weather conditions such as gusting winds and flash floods cause the fewest fatalities – only eight from 2007 to 2013. However, other environmental factors played a role in deaths. Exposure to cold or heat, avalanches, and rockslides are examples such causes of fatal incidents in the wilderness. Advance preparation and knowledge of existing hazards can prevent being caught in dangerous conditions.
- Slips/falls by hikers resulted in 169 deaths in national parks between 2007 and 2013. People falling over cliffs, from trees and rocks, over waterfalls and down slippery slopes are all too common incidents that can result in serious injury and death. Likewise, slipping in streams or on trails covered in wet leaves and brush are the cause of many injuries.
- Wildlife sightings are a big draw for visitors to parks and other outdoor areas. Unfortunately, the animals aren’t usually quite as enamored with their human visitors. The most common cause of death by wild animal is attack by grizzly bear. Other animals that commonly present a risk are mountain goats, boars and snakes.
- Poisoning by carbon monoxide, drugs, alcohol and toxic plants are very rare, but do occasionally occur.