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Name: Unknown
Status: other
Age: 30s
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 1999-2001

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 ( to do some research or look at a summary table here ( 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.

Michael Baldwin


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.

Harold Myron

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