Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Air Travel: Very Safe

As Nate Silver observes, even frequent fliers doesn't stand much risk of being on board a plane that experiences a terrorist incident. Lightning strikes and death by rattlesnake or bear attack are more likely, but we haven't devoted billions of dollars in government resources to reducing lightning strikes or bear attacks.

Presumably the hysteria around terrorist attacks on airplanes (and plane crashes as well), is the sense of a lack of control. It's well documented that travel by car is more dangerous on a per-mile basis than travel by airplane, but driving gives the illusion of being in charge of one's fate, or at least being able to control one's risk factors. Likewise, people who don't go backpacking stand very little chance of encountering a bear or rattlesnake. But lots of people end up in situations where flying is the only practical option. Convincing ourselves that a one-in-ten-million risk is acceptable shouldn't be that hard. I'm not sure "get a grip" is a winning political message these days, but someone needs to figure out how to make it happen before we choke airline travel to death.


Michelle said...

This is the most sane post I've read about "terrorism" and "flying" all day!

ikl said...

Given the environmental consequences, maybe "choking airline travel to death" wouldn't actually be such a bad thing!

Anonymous said...

In the aggregate, per mile death rates are about the same driving and flying at 1000 miles. Shorter flights are more dangerous per mile. Longer flights are less dangerous per mile. Riding a bike is far more dangerous per mile than flying any distance because of accidents involving cars.

NATURE give the following lifetime odds of dying of the following causes: 1:90 for motor vehicle accident, 1:9,000 for drowning, 1:30,000 for airplane crash (not just scheduled airlines), 1:130,000 for earthquake, 1:600,000 for fireworks accident, 1:720,000 for asteroid impact, 1:300,000,000 for food poisoning by botulism and 1:8,000,000 for shark attack [NATURE; Harris,A; Volume 453; page 1178; 26 June 2008].