There are more people with a fear of flying than there are a fear of driving or being in cars. And this probably sounds perfectly logical to anyone with such a fear. After all, you’re several thousand feet in the air with no control over what the plane does and with little chance of surviving a crash. Right?
If this is the way you think then you might be surprised to know that the odds of crashing and dying when flying are considerably less than the odds of doing the same in a car. And it’s not just because there are more cars on the road, as we shall discover.
Odds of Plane Crash vs Car Crash
You could be forgiven for dismissing the stat that car crashes outnumber plane crashes based on the fact that there are way more cars on the road than planes in the air. But you would be wrong to do so, because these stats are based on probabilities and percentages, not totals. In other words, you would need to take over 3.2 million flights before you had a likely chance of being involved in a plane crash, whereas you would only need to take 5,000 trips in a car. What’s more, while car crashes are becoming more common, plane crashes are getting rarer.
That’s a significant difference. Of course, car crashes aren’t always fatal, while plane crashes are. Right? Well, not quite. The vast majority of plane crashes occur when the plane is on the runway, either preparing for take-off or landing. In these cases the crash can still be fatal, but it is very rare.
How Many People Die in Plane Crashes?
The numbers differ quite significantly from year to year because it only takes one major accident to have a massive impact on the figures. In 2014, 844 fatalities were recorded, but in the following year there were just 471 and there were even fewer in 2016. If you go back to 2013 then there were under 300, which was the safest year on record.
The issue is that planes carry dozens, if not hundreds of people, so it only takes one major incident for these numbers to be inflated. 2016 would have been one of the safest years on record if not for the crash in November that killed nearly 80 people, including most of a Brazilian soccer team.
Of course, any loss of life is a tragedy, but to put things into perspective, there are over 8 million passengers flying every single day, and more than 3 billion will fly every year. In other words, if every living person on earth were to fly, the amount of deaths would equate to the population of a small village.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be afraid of flying, nor does it mean you can use those stats to nag someone in your life who is afraid of flying. Phobias are rarely rational and no amount of stats can change the way someone feels when they feel so strongly about it.
How Many People Die in Car Crashes?
Every year there are more than 1.3 million fatalities from auto accidents, with as many as 50 million more being seriously injured or disabled. This figure is staggering and while it might not be enough to cure your fear of flying, it could just be enough to give you a fear of driving.
The problem is that there are so many cars on the road and no matter how skilled of a driver you are, your life will always remain in the hands of others, much like when you are in a plane. The difference is that in a plane your life is in the hands of a skilled pilot and an incredibly expensive and well maintained piece of technology. On the road your life is in the hands of any idiot who decided to jump behind the wheel regardless of how unreliable their vehicle is, how drunk or drugged-up they are, and how reckless they can become.
Many of these deaths occur in countries like India and China, where the traffic is a little more chaotic and the roads are far less orderly, and where they have huge populations. In total, more than half a million people die from traffic accidents in these two countries combined and you are 50% to 80% more likely to be involved in a road traffic accident there than you are in the United States
Europe is one of the safest continents as far as the roads are concerned, while many African countries top the list for being the most dangerous. If you discount principalities, which have very small, controlled populations, then the safest countries for drivers are Sweden and the United Kingdom. Your odds of being involved in a fatal accident in the US are nearly 5 times more than they are in the UK, and in Libya your odds of being involved in such an accident are around 35x greater than the UK.
Will the Roads get Safer?
The reason the UK is so high on the list of safest countries for drivers is because there are a number of speed cameras, speed bumps and speed traps on UK roads. There are strict speed limits, all major roads have barriers to operate traffic, as well as run-off areas and emergency breakdown areas. Add the act that they are very strict regarding tax and insurance and the fact that you can be fined for not wearing a seatbelt, and it’s easy to see why those figures are so low.
It wasn’t always this way, but control has tightened and this has kept fatalities lower than elsewhere, even as the number of drivers increases. If other countries can follow the regulations applied by countries like the UK and Sweden then there is no reason why those fatalities can’t come down all over.
It’s also worth noting that air travel has always been tightly controlled and will remain so. Poorly performing airlines and poorly maintained planes are often blacklisted from certain airports and airspace, and there are a huge number of regulations in place to ensure complete safety. Of course, you still can’t account for bad weather and pilot error, nor can you account for terrorist attacks, and it’s these factors that often play a role in the the few crashes that do occur every year.