Vending Machines Might Be More Deadly than Sharks

Ominous vending machine
Witthaya Prasongsin / Getty Images

"Vending machines kill, sharks don't," claimed a July 4, 2003, Reuters headline. The article quoted an L.A. lifeguard who asserted that despite a ubiquitous fear of shark attacks in the United States, "more people are killed in the United States each year by vending machines" — which smacks of an urban legend, but probably isn't. This statistic is repeated again and again in lists of things more likely to kill you than a shark.​

It appears that, indeed, vending machines kill four to six times more people in the United States than sharks do each year. Between two and four people die each year due to vending machine accidents compared with less than one being killed by a shark.

Not only are vending machines more deadly, there are over 1,700 reported injuries from vending machines each year but fewer than 25 shark attacks per year in the United States.

But this doesn't let sharks off the hook. You are 10 times more likely to die if you are attacked by a shark than if you are attacked by a vending machine. Not to mention that most of us pass vending machines several times each day without attacks occurring, while far fewer of us are swimming in shark-infested waters.

A Darwin Award

The 2001 Darwin Awards nomination featured a nomination for Kevin, a 19-year old college student in Quebec, Canada, who was killed when a 900-pound Coca-Cola machine tipped over on him after he shook it. He was trapped under the machine and asphyxiated. The coroner's report said cited 35 deaths and 140 injuries in 20 years in North America at that time. Coca-Cola responded by placing stickers on their machines warning not to tip them or rock them, at least in Canada.

Vending Machine Death Statistics

Statistics from the Consumer Product Safety Commission for 1995 listed two people died as a result of being crushed by falling soda machines in the U.S., as compared to zero shark-related deaths in the same twelve-month period.

Moreover, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were 37 known vending machine fatalities between 1978 and 1995, for an average of 2.18 deaths per year. Over the decade from 1994 to 2004 there was a total of six recorded shark attack fatalities in the U.S., for an average of 0.6 deaths per year. Ergo, the vending machines are indeed more deadly than sharks by a factor of almost four.

More Recent Vending Machine Injury Statistics

The National Electronic Injury Surveillance System has statistics on vending machine injuries. The annual average from 2002 to 2015 was four deaths out of 1,730 injuries per year, making it the tenth most dangerous item out of 15 in the office and school category. In that category, playground equipment is far and away number one with over 135,000 injuries per year, followed by scissors at almost 16,000 injuries per year. But not to worry much about the kids around vending machines, the over-age 64 group had a whopping 30 percent of the injuries while all school-age kids totaled less than 15 percent. A few more men than women were injured by vending machines, 55 percent to 45 percent.

The type of injuries you get from a vending machine was 20 percent to the head, 13 percent to the hand, 12.5 percent to the upper trunk, 8.5 percent to the face, and 7 percent to the whole body (as in a tip-over). The diagnoses were over 25 percent contusion or abrasion, 17 percent laceration, 10 percent strain or sprain, 8 percent internal injury. The good news is that under 11 percent of those seeking medical care were hospitalized. The vast majority were treated and released or left without treatment.

Moral: Never swim in vending machine-infested waters.