December 17, 2008

Study: Don’t drink and take NYC subways

New York City subways are relatively safe but have the highest fatality rate of all U.S. mass transit -- possibly because of alcohol, researchers say.

Researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health in New York reviewed files from the city's medical examiner's office for all city subway-related deaths between 1990 and 2003. They found there were 668 fatalities, of which 1.5 percent were homicides, 51.3 percent were suicides and 47.2 percent were accidental or unintentional deaths.

The study, published in the Journal of Safety Research, found 84 percent of all subway fatalities were male, and the largest proportion -- 26.5 percent -- were between 35-44 years old. Forty-three percent of subway-related fatalities occurred in Manhattan, more than in any other borough.

Unintentional subway fatalities may result because of passengers jumping onto tracks to retrieve dropped items, or accidentally falling onto the tracks through missteps, sudden illness or lack of supervision of children. Subway surfing youth may also get killed or injured.

Forty-six percent of all accidental subway-fatality victims had a positive toxicological screen for alcohol, Robyn Gershon said in a statement. Data suggest that riding subways while intoxicated may be associated with accidental death. This is a public health message that has not, to our knowledge, been communicated to the general public.