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Driving versus flying – about risks and myths

Call me a freak, but every time I am confronted by the statement that flying is safer than driving, I wonder on which statistics and facts such theorem is based.  So I recently dived into some research, and discovered once more that statistics are a perfect playing field for manipulation. Especially in the USA, specialists ranging from the National Transportation Safety Board to several University study reports vary in interesting ways, whereby the apparent contradictions lay more in approach than in facts.  After consulting those sources, I drew my own conclusions, which I am happy to share with you:

First of all, flying is indeed thousands of times safer than driving if the criteria is distances versus accidents. But that is perhaps not a fair comparison; After all, one return trip across the Atlantic Ocean equals a mileage that most people do with their car over a whole year only.

So let´s filter it down to journeys versus accidents. So we put a holiday travelling with a plane equal to a trip to the shopping mall with a car. Here, flying is still hundreds of times safer than driving. Hence, not “thousands” …

But perhaps not even that is a fair comparison. After all, with a car you can easily suffer an accident without injuries, whereas accidents in airplanes have the nasty tendency to be deadly. So let´s compare journeys versus fatal accidents.  Thus: how big is the risk to step into a car to never come out of it alive in comparison to a plane? Even with that criterion the plane wins, but only with a disappointing margin. Perhaps by a one to ten proportion in a good year without mayor airplane disasters, and less so in a bad year with several large crashes.

I apologize to the people whom I did not help to overcome their fear of flying with the above,

even if in all comparisons the plane still stands as a safer means of transport than a car.

For people still afraid of flying, however, it is perhaps good to know that over 80% of airplane crashes occur during landing or take-off. With that knowledge, they may least relax a bit more during the rest of the flight.


Hans Mulder