More likely to die how?

An oft-cited statistic in answer to people’s “irrational” fears of flying is that you’re more likely to die in a car crash than a plane crash. What a load of bullshit.

Now, I’ll still fly. If I want to go back east or to Europe or Asia, I won’t be going by boat, car, or train. I won’t imagine, though, that fears of flying are not founded.

First of all, statistics like that assume that everyone is equally at risk, just as are statistics relating to divorce rates (50% is the most commonly agreed upon figure). It doesn’t mean you can flip a coin to decide whether your marriage will work out or not. Some people’s marriages are bound to fail (for example, spur-of-the-moment Britney Spears Vegas weddings), and some people just don’t think marriage will be any work or have unrealistic expectations about what “love” is. People are also more likely to divorce if their own parents are divorced. Just because 50% of marriages end in divorce doesn’t mean that every marriage has a 50/50 chance of success or failure. More likely, 50% of marriages have a 90/10 chance of success and the other half have a 10/90 chance of success.

Likewise, when it comes to driving and fatal accidents, most of the time good driving can help you avoid fatal accidents. It’s as simple as that. I can’t guarantee by driving well that I will avoid all accidents, but I’m less likely to be in a fatal accident that would be my fault if I’m a good driver. Sure, there’s the odd chance a drunk driver will speed at 70 MPH into my car, and I won’t be able to swerve in time, but at least it won’t be my fault. I can’t avoid the accidents that are not my fault.

On the other hand, when you’re in a plane, you are leaving it up to chance. It doesn’t matter how much “skill” you have at being a passenger, you’re not less likely to be hijacked or to have a pilot who’s drunk or to be in a plane that had a shoddy maintenance check. It’s up to you to maintain your car, to drive it well, to try your best to avoid carjackers, but you are not in a position as a plane-rider to screen every other passenger for security or to make sure the plane is running well.

The other problem with this statistic is that most (as the “further readings” will reaffirm) car crashes are not fatal. I’ve been in at least three or four accidents (either as a passenger or driver), none of which were my fault and none of which resulted in any injury to my person (though the cars were a bit worse for the wear). Almost all plane crashes result in fatalities, and not just a few.

Driving has the possibility of being safer if you drive safely. Flying on a plane is playing “Russian Roulette” but with more than six barrels.

Further Reading
Which is more dangerous—flying or driving?
Are airplanes safe?
Risk analysis
Are plane crashes news?

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