Date:April 2, 2020

Is Air Travel Safer Than Driving?


Sitting in an 80-ton metal tube hurtling through the air at a speed of 500 mph and at an altitude of 36,000ft may sound like a recipe for disaster. But that’s essentially what you’re doing when you fly, and your odds of dying in a plane crash are only about 1 in an 11 million and our odds of dying in a car accident are about 1 in 200.

Even sleeping can be more dangerous than flying! You are 5 times more likely to die in your bed than are up in the air. About 1.3 million people die in car accidents every year, that’s an average of 3,287 deaths per day. Car accidents are the 9th leading cause of death. Compared to that there were 13 deaths in 2017 in two fatal plane crashes worldwide. 

There are 35 million flights each year transporting 3.5 billion passengers, for every 1 billion passenger miles traveled by car 7.2 people die, by plane, this number is reduced to 0.07 deaths. This means that the chances of being in a flight accident are less than 1 in 2 million. Even if you’re unlucky to be on that one-in-a-million flight, death isn’t a likely outcome, you still have a 95.7% chance of walking away from a plane crash. The most dangerous part of flying is the drive to the airport! The reason why air travel seems dangerous is due to the effect of the availability heuristic. If you hear about almost every single airplane crash that occurs and the news of crashes is further magnified by TV, portraying it as a catastrophic deadly event. As a result, memorable images get stuck in our minds. The next time we think of traveling, these images may immediately come to mind causing us to incorrectly evaluate the danger of airline travel. 

Car crashes are less publicized and less likely to dominate the minds of the public. You assume that cars are safer because car companies show crash tests in their commercials, making their vehicles seem well-tested and safer. But you never get to see the rigorous testing done on planes unless you look for it, aircraft go through a massive amount of testing before, they even get off the ground and there’s still plenty more done after that. Noone is assisting you while you are driving your car, but in a plane, your pilots are never the only people in charge of your safety. They have many eyes assisting them from take-off through landing with Air Traffic Control. Combine these dedicated and highly trained professionals with the incredible safety technology in airplanes and there’s no contest at all: air travel is objectively much safer than driving.