In the past 50 years, we’ve added about 7 years to our life expectancy here in the US. I call this the era of Modern Medicine.

From 1880 to 1960, we added 31 years. This was the era of Public Health. It was the simple things, like vaccines, antibiotics and clean water that added those 31 years. In essence, we saved the kids and life expectancy skyrocketed. Public Health has had 5 times greater of an impact on life expectancy than modern medicine with its pills, surgeries, and devices. 

This above photo is what happens to a population’s life expectancy when young people die en masse. This is South Africa’s life expectancy. All was well until HIV struck and began killing off the young.

What can we learn from this?

In 2008, there were 37,261 people killed in car crashes in the United States. People aged 16 to 34 were disproportionately killed. 

In 2008, there were 14,299 murders in America. People aged 17 to 44 were disproportionately affected. 

In America, unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death until you hit age 44. 

Imagine what would happen to our life expectancy in America if we saved 40,000 young people from dying prematurely? It would skyrocket and we would very likely have the highest life expectancy in the world. 

That’s why I put my faith in Google and others trying to automate driving. If Google can figure out how to virtually eliminate automobile crashes, this would be as significant as an achievement as the invention of clean water, vaccines, and antibiotics. We should be showering money on those groups working on crash-proof cars.  Imagine a world where we didn’t have nearly 40,000 people dying in a car crash! It’s very possible and super exciting to think about. All those people we’ve know who’ve died in crashes, they’d all still be alive, thanks to the internet. Amazing.

I don’t put my faith in modern medicine– it simply won’t touch that life expectancy curve because it’s focused on treating sickness, not prevention. When you save the olds, it doesn’t affect the life expectancy curve of a population nowhere nearly as much as saving young people. The best way to significantly improve our life expectancy in America is to save the kids through safer cars and changing the attitudes about homicide being an acceptable solution to a dispute.