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Driving Or... Flying?

Which is safer: The drive to the airport or the flight?

Keith Thomson,  Feb 16, 2009

Recent events had me wondering about the accuracy of the old axiom that you're more likely to be killed on the drive to the airport than on the flight.

According to the, which parsed extensive National Transportation Safety Board accident data with Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association data: Driving results in 1.47 fatalities per 100 million miles; Airlines are responsible for 1.57 fatalities per 100 million miles.

Accordingly, since you probably travel many more miles on the flight than on the drive to the airport, you're more likely to be killed in a plane crash.

But of course the typical flight covers a much greater distance than the drive to the airport. If fatalities per mile is your measure of choice, you would be making a mistake to walk anywhere again--according to the National Safety Council, nearly half as many pedestrians are killed in traffic accidents as are occupants of cars. And scooters probably would rank up there with the Bubonic plague, c. 1340.

Meretrix also derives the following numbers to take into account the discrepancy in distances of car and plane trips:

Driving: .588 fatalities per million hours.

Airlines: 6.5 fatalities per million hours.

So evidently the drive-to-the-airport axiom needs a re-write. Here's a suggestion: You're more likely to be killed on the drive to the airport than on a flight on an airline with a good safety record. An automobile occupant's odds of fatality during a 30-minute drive are 1 in 8.5 million. The OAG Aviation & accident database puts an individual's odds of fatality on one of the 25 safest airliners at 1 in 13.57 million. By comparison, on the 25 airlines with the worst records, the odds are more than ten times greater: 1 in 1.13 million.

Should these statistics lead you to wonder whether you're better off staying home, take heart in the knowledge that both airline and traffic fatalities historically have been in steady decline--automobile fatality rates were four times greater in the 1950s than today, and airline fatalities have declined by 50% in the past decade alone.

Also, staying home isn't exactly without peril: In 2005, according to the NSC, simple falls were responsible for almost half as many fatalities--19,656--as transportation accidents.

Conclusions: Go, pay attention to safety records, and bear in mind that your overall chances of a transportation fatality in a given year are a minuscule 1 in 6,121. As another old axiom has it: Inactivity is death.

Which is safer: The drive to the airport or the flight?
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