Driving or Flying?
It is said that flying is the safest mode of
transportation. Please explain to me these statistics, and I would like
to know the survival rate of airplane crashes (as opposed to motor
vehicles). All my friends, including myself, have been involved in a car
accident in one form or another and we have ALL survived. I still dont
think it is safer.
I am glad that you and your friends have survived all the automobile
accidents. But the reality of the situation is quite different.
First we need to agree on the terminology. Safe means without accidents that
result in economic loss, bodily injury, or fatality. Survival rate is not the
same thing as safety.
In the US, each year there are about 40,000 deaths per year in automobile
accidents vs. about 200 in air transport. To put this in perspective, the
chance of dying in an automobile accident is about 1000 times more than
winning a typical state lottery in a year.
If we ignore property and bodily damage and focus on fatalities only, we
should look at fatality rates per passenger mile traveled. This require some
research. You can go to the National Transportation Safety board website
(http://www.itsasafety.org) to do some research or look at a summary table
here (http://hazmat.dot.gov/riskcompare.htm). According to the latter, each
year in the US 1 out of 6800 drivers dies in an auto accident. The rate for
airline passengers is 1 in 1.6 million. The same table shows that per
passenger mile, air travel is safer by more than a factor of two. I doubt
this last figure; I think it should be about 100x safer, because I guess we
drive and fly the same number of miles (give or take a factor or 2-5) per
year, yet fatalities are 200 times higher for autos than for airlines.
Hope this is helpful.
Ali Khounsary, Ph.D.
Advanced Photon Source
Argonne National Laboratory
The statistics are based upon the number of airplane crashes as a percent,
in other words more people die as a result of automobile crashes per year as
opposed to dying by an airplane crash. The survival rate is much lower for
an airplane crash but airplanes don't crash as much as cars. Don't mix the
two up, as you stated "All my friends, including myself, have been involved
in a car accident in one form or another and we have ALL survived" but how
many of you have been in an airplane crash?? When an airplane crashes maybe
500 people may die but something like 20000 people die by auto vehicles each
year in the US, in other words you would need a lot of airplane crashes to
equal that number. The statistics also include miles traveled so if you
have 400 people flying 1000 miles that's 400,000 safe miles traveled, but to
equate that to automobiles take 40,000 people driving 10 miles-out of the
40,000 cars driving those ten miles you may have a higher chance of at least
one fatal car accident. Also, you walked away from the car accident but was
anyone else injured including the people in the other car?
The same thing goes for Germany's autobahn that is one of the safest
highways in the world-there are less accidents, but when they do happen they
are usually fatal.
I think most of those statistics are based on a per traveler mile
basis. Sorry, I don't have the survival stats on airline crashes, but it's
not going to be very high as with _ANY_ crash at high speed. If you count
the survival rate in car crashes above 50 mph it's pretty low too, and goes
exponentially down with increase in speed since the impact is going to pack
that much more energy.
Annual automobile deaths are about 30-40,000 per year, depending on the
year. One of the things about driving is the misperception of people that
they are totally under control of their own destiny. To a certain extent,
there is control, you can avoid driving drunk, you can increase your
following distance, you can reduce your speed. However, let's say that
roughly half of traffic accidents are caused by drunk drivers, and half
those deaths are not in the car of the drunk driver. That would mean
7-10,000 people died in accidents in which they were not the drunk driver
and pretty much had no control of whether the accident happened or not.
A really bad airline accident will have 300 deaths (one of the larger jets,
packed full). To get anywhere in the same neighborhood of fatalities, you
need about 21 accidents of that size every year, or about two per
month. For the more common sized jets, the number of passengers is more
like 200, so you'll need about 35 of those, or three per month.
Even in a very bad year you typically don't get more than 5 medium to large
airline crashes worldwide, so even if some of these estimates (e.g. the
fraction of accidents caused by drunk drivers) are off by a factor of 2,
there is still a lot of leeway before airline travel becomes anywhere near
as dangerous as driving.
The safest mode of transportation is defined as the number of fatalities per
passenger mile. Obviously, the automobile distances are smaller than that of
an airplane, hence the definition is skewed toward airplane safety. The
number of accidents in an airplane are relatively few compared to the
traffic, the effects of such accidents are of course usually fatal.
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Update: June 2012