Is Flying Safer than Driving?
Bill Allen | August 8, 2022 | Car Accidents
Automobiles and airplanes have both been indispensable travel methods for as long as most people have been alive. The Federal Aviation Administration reports that nearly three million individuals take to America’s airways every day. The United States Department of Transportation estimates that the average person drives 39 miles daily.
Both methods of transportation have their benefits and drawbacks, including the potential for crashes or wrecks resulting in severe injuries or death. People may be biased one way or another, but numbers don’t lie. Statistics show which is the safer travel option.
Frequency of Car Wrecks and Fatalities
The Department of Transportation’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System shows that in 2019, a total of 36,096 individuals died in 33,244 fatal car wrecks. So for every 100 million miles traveled by U.S. cars in 2019, there were 1.34 deaths.
With over 275 million registered vehicles in the United States and approximately 100 traffic deaths happening each day, travel by car may seem relatively safe. But these statistics do not tell the whole story about car safety.
In addition to fatal collisions, tens of thousands of traffic crashes occur every day. Some of these wrecks only cause damage to the vehicles involved, whereas others result in injuries of varying magnitude.
As insurer Esurance has found, the average American has a one in 366 chance of being involved in some kind of car wreck for every 1,000 miles traveled.
Risk of Being Involved in an Aviation Accident
How does this compare to the risk of being a casualty in a plane wreck? The answer depends on whether you look at commercial aviation or other, more general forms of aviation. Commercial aircraft, for example, include passenger liners operated by airline companies like Delta, American Airlines, and United.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board, between 2015 and 2020, there were only two fatal plane crashes involving a commercial air carrier based in the U.S. In each crash, there was only one fatality. Further, the rate of fatalities per 100,000 miles traveled via a U.S. commercial airline never exceeded 0.011 during any one year between 2015 and 2020.
But commercial airlines are not the extent of the aviation industry, which also encompasses general aviation and charter aircraft. These account for several hundred additional accidents and fatalities each year. For example, in 2019, there were 1,220 general aviation accidents, resulting in 406 fatalities.
Reasons for General Aviation Crashes
It may seem surprising to some that commercial airlines can maintain a near-spotless record while general aviation does not fare as well. But the maintenance and inspection requirements for general aviation aircraft are not as stringent as those for commercial aircraft.
Pilot training requirements are also different for general aviation than for commercial aviation. Commercial pilots must possess significantly more training and experience behind the yoke than general aviation pilots.
Finally, commercial aircraft as a whole are technologically superior to most general aviation aircraft. Commercial airliners have safety and redundancy systems that are meant to detect and mitigate the effect of a system failure or pilot error. But general aviation aircraft generally do not have such systems and are not required to have them.
The Verdict Is In: Air Travel Is Safer
Considering the available data, one is far more likely to suffer injury or death in a car accident than in a plane accident. This is especially true if the person is flying in a commercial airliner and not in a chartered aircraft.
Even when flying in a general aviation aircraft, though, statistics show that this is still a safer means of travel than getting behind the wheel of a car.
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