Travel was as hazardous an activity 500 years ago as it is today, reveals research in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
The speed and modes of transport might have changed, but travel remains one of the riskiest areas of human activity, for serious injury and death, conclude the authors.
They base their findings on coroners' inquests into adult deaths from unintentional injuries in the county of Sussex, South East England, for the period 1485 to 1688.
They chose Sussex, because there are good series of coroners' records for the county during the 16th and 17th centuries. The county was one of the most prosperous areas of the country at that time.
Predominantly rural in nature, most of its residents worked in agriculture. But the area was also a major centre for iron making (canon and firearms), dependent on charcoal burning furnaces. And its coastal areas were a hub of sea-faring activity.
During the 200 years under study, 1347 people died suddenly, just over 1000 of whom were adults. Of these, around a third (413 cases or 35%) involved unintentional injury. Most were in men.
The most significant immediate cause of death was drowning, predominantly at sea, which accounted for 38% of cases, followed by being hit/struck/crushed by an object (25%) and falls from a cart/wagon or a horse (14%).
Other falls accounted for 9% of deaths, deaths from gunshot or arrow wounds 6%, and burns/scalds 1%. Six people died while drunk.
But further analysis of the activities involved, when the incidents occurred, showed that many of the people involved were on the move at the time.
Land travel accounted for 30% of injuries. Riding on horses or in wagons/carts was only slightly more hazardous than travelling by foot as pedestrians fell from bridges and ferries and into ditches. Three people were knocked down by speeding horses.
Unintentional injury is a major public health problem around the world, say the authors. And the toll of serious injury and death is expected to rise in the coming decades as poor countries become more developed.
"One continuity is the hazardous nature of travel," comment the authors. "Movement across the landscape has always exposed humans to injury risk, and changing forms of transport do not seem to have altered that basic fact."