Igor's Journal



Fish Tank

Is Flying Really Safer Than Driving?
Wednesday, 26 December 2001

I was talking with some people today about the danger of flying.  I heard that people are driving rather than flying and wondered why.  I have heard many times that flying is safer than driving, but have no hard data to back it up, so I decided to do a little research.

My first finding brought me to NHTSA.  This site states that 41,471 people in the USA died in automobile accidents in 1998.  In 2000 the number is 41821.  Over 3 million people were injured at a cost of over 150 billion dollars.  Wow.

I wonder how that relates to airplanes?  In 2000, I assume that fewer than 200 people died, and only a few were injured.  In 2001 the figure is higher due to terrorism, around 3000.

To calculate the relative safety of air travel versus auto travel, we need to know how many miles were driven and flown in 2001.

In 2000, there were 2,691,335,000,000 miles traveled.  That equals 1.6 fatalities per 100 million miles.

According to the NTSB, there were 92 fatalities on commercial flights in 2000 with about 18,000,000 flight hours.  Assuming an average speed of 500 miles per flight hour, I get about 900,000,000 miles or about 1 fatality per 100 million miles.

The site also lists general and civil aviation.  There were 1340 deaths there with 30 million flight hours.  That equals about 17 deaths per 100 million miles.

In a bad year like 2001 with over 3000 people killed (mostly in the twin towers), the ratio is even higher: 34 deaths per 100 million miles.

So, does that mean that with terrorism it really is more dangerous to fly?  It depends on how you view the statistics.  Don't forget the 3 million driving injuries and 150 billion in damage.

The real question people ask though is: would it be safer to fly than to drive?  If you consider number of accidents, injuries, deaths, and dollars, you are definitely better off flying.  However, if the only question is how many deaths are there per mile traveled, driving might be safer, at least as long as there are terrorists in this world.