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
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
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.