Vending Machines vs Sharks — what’s deadlier?

An exploration of whether vending machines are truly 4 times more fatal than sharks

Raghav Mittal
Purple Theory
6 min readSep 27, 2020


I recently came across this interesting statistic:

Vending machines kill 4 times as many people per year as sharks.

Wait really? I mean…which of the two looks scarier?

Photos by Charles Deluvio and David Clode on Unsplash

This statistic seems can’t possibly be true, can it? Okay, let’s work this out.

Exploring deaths by vending machines

Maybe the statistic arises because vending machines usually have unhealthy options? And somehow this was leading to disease and then deaths? A US-wide survey of 1420 vending machines in 251 schools found that 75% of the drinks and 85% of the snacks found in their vending machines are of poor nutritional value. So it’s possible that unhealthy eating habits cause short-term and long-term ailments, which is why the number is so high. But linking anything back to a vending machine is almost impossible — there’s no way one can reliably trace a death by diabetes back to a single pack of M&M’s you bought after you asked your crush out in high school.

Another possible explanation for deaths by vending machine could be an immediate reaction to consuming an item. For example, choking or allergic reactions could prove fatal if immediate help is not received. But in either case, the reason for death then becomes ‘choking’ or ‘allergy’ rather than ‘vending machine’.

Maybe it’s because of electrical shocks caused by faulty electronics or loose wiring in the vending machine? Turns out that vending machines are actually pretty energy efficient and don’t require much voltage — they can be plugged into regular 120 volt outlets. That means that most shocks should actually be survivable (Please don’t go test this out right now — remember most shocks, not all).

But turns out that none of these reasons is the major cause of vending machine deaths.

Almost every article and source that claims that vending machines kill 4 times as many people per year as sharks points to one specific report by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission. This report, released in 1995, says that the CPSC is aware of at least 37 deaths and 113 injuries in the US since 1978 that have resulted from consumers rocking or tilting the machines in an attempt to obtain free soda or money. That comes out to be around 2.18 deaths per year.

Image from Design History

Exploring deaths by sharks

Now let’s explore deaths caused by sharks. Unlike the causes of vending machine deaths, this one seems intuitive — people go for a dip in the ocean, a shark says hello, and the count is incremented by 1.

The oldest shark fossil found dates to around 450 million years ago. In comparison, the oldest fossils relating to the Homo genus dates to only 2 million years ago, and the oldest Homo sapiens fossils found are just 315,000 years old. While the Homo genus has just 1 species remaining (we, sapiens, wiped them all out), there are over 500 different shark species still remaining. However, most don’t even come in contact with humans in their lifetime. The three shark species responsible for the most attacks on humans are the great white, tiger, and bull.

Distribution maps for Great White, Tiger, and Bull sharks (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Looking at the maps, one can understand why US and Australia lead in the total number of shark attacks. The International Shark Attack File (ISAF) administered by the Florida Museum of Natural History, is a comprehensive database of all known shark attacks:

Number of unprovoked shark attacks since 1580. The bigger the dot — the higher the number. (Source: ISAF)

Most shark attack statistics, including the ones above, usually consider unprovoked attacks.

Unprovoked attacks are defined as incidents where an attack on a live human occurs in the shark’s natural habitat with no human provocation of the shark.

Provoked attacks occur when a human initiates interaction with a shark in some way. These include instances when divers are bitten after harassing or trying to touch sharks, attacks on spearfishers, attacks on people attempting to feed sharks, bites occurring while unhooking or removing a shark from a fishing net, and so forth.

According to ISAF, surfers and those participating in board sports accounted for most unprovoked shark-related attacks (53% of the total cases). Swimmers and waders accounted for 25% of incidents, with remaining incidents divided between snorkelers/free divers (11%), body-surfers (8%), and scuba divers (3%).

Now, remember how I said that on average, the number of deaths by vending machines in the US came to around 2.18 per year. In 1995, there were 2 deaths by vending machine. In that same year, there were 0 deaths by sharks. In fact, take a look at the shark-related deaths in the US for the last 10 years — the average comes out to be just 0.6 deaths per year:

Number of shark attacks and deaths in the US from 2010–2019 (Source: ISAF)


There were ~2.18 vending machine deaths per year before 1995. Of course it has gone up after then. More recent statistics by the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System said that between 2002 and 2015, vending machines caused an average of 4 US deaths per year.

Almost all reported accidental deaths involving vending machines in the US were caused by the customer tipping the machine over onto themselves. Vending machines are extremely heavy. A fully stocked soda machine can weigh more than 300 kilograms. That’s almost like 3 Dwayne Johnsons falling you at once.

Keep in mind that statistics relating to vending machine deaths are only available for the US. The UK, US and China have a lot of vending machines, but it isn’t as common in India or Nigeria. It would be interesting to know how the number of deaths/injuries would be when averaged over the entire world.


Vending machines kill 4 times as many people per year as sharks.

This is true. In fact, it’s more than 4 — it’s almost 6 times.

When it comes to my daily life, well…I’m currently a 12 hour drive away from a beach, so I can confidently say that my chances of an unprovoked shark death are exactly 0. I’d think twice before provoking even a frog so I think my chances of a provoked shark death are also 0. Anyway, most of these national and worldwide figures are averaged out over all geographic locations — so if you’re living nowhere near a water body, vending machines are technically infinitely more dangerous. If you’re a surfer or water skier or windsurfer or rafter or boogie boarder (this list is a lot longer and cooler than I thought), then you have a somewhat equal chance of being killed by either a shark or a vending machine.

If you’re planning to install a vending machine, first of all who are you and why are you reading my blog? Secondly, look for a place which can support it’s weight and where the machine fits well. Be careful when taking it up the stairs and don’t put it in random places like up on a scaffolding.

If you’re like me and the other 99.99% of the people who didn’t even realize that people actually buy vending machines, and not only the stuff they vend— don’t panic and don’t shake the machine if a snack doesn’t come out. Keep calm and you’re all good. The snack was probably unhealthy for you anyway.

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Raghav Mittal
Purple Theory

Don’t read this bio, read Purple Theory instead