Which is more scary: planes or cars?

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I don't mind flying, but I'm terrified of cars. Does anyone else feel the same way? Or are you a nervous flyer?

I think it's because while I know several people who have been killed in car accidents, I don't know anyone who's been killed in a plane crash. Also, the statistics back me up on this one.

-- Anonymous, November 27, 2000


For me, it depends on the plane and the weather conditions. I was once on a small commuter plane (< 20 people capacity) during a pretty bad storm. I'm not very religious, however, I was saying my prayers. I also felt pretty nauseus. I think it was a bad omen when they had to remove some luggage so the plane could take off.

Based on your entries Jen, it seems like you are a good luck charm in cars! :-)

-- Anonymous, November 27, 2000

Really, most people should be afraid when they're on the road. (driving or passenger)

What other activities during the day offer equivalent risk of crippling injuries or death?

That said, I love driving my little red car.

(OH, I'm not really afraid of flying -- it's the falling for 5 minutes that would be annoying)

-- Anonymous, November 27, 2000

Oh, I so hate driving. If I could get away with not driving ever again, I'd turn over my truck and my license today. I think cars are much scarier because of the number of assholes on the road. There may be as many assholes in the air, but we don't have to see what they do, and it makes it less terrifying. (And I'm an acrophobe, so that's saying something about my driving issues.)

-- Anonymous, November 27, 2000

Planes!! I'm terrified of cars-- trucks, soccer moms in mini-vans, useless white trash in pick-ups or souped-up Camaros, rain, flat tires, etc. But at least I feel the illusion of control in traffic. On a plane, every air bump means a disaster: flames, screams, falling, death. You're only held up by mathematics, and there's a thin sheet of metal between you and death. I can longer fly-- which kills getting to Europe or going to job interviews.

-- Anonymous, November 27, 2000

Planes don't nearly run me over when I'm crossing the street. Drunk guys don't fly their planes past me and scream "I'm gonna fuckin kill ya ya mutha fumba muna bum ha ha ha!" for pointless entertainment. I've never had a plane hit my house but it still has scars from when someone's car smashed into it thirty years ago. In the past eight years there have been sixteen car accidents in front of my house with one fatality. I hope they get the bugs worked out of these cars very soon because they're dangerous the way they are now.

-- Anonymous, November 27, 2000

While there are a lot of idiotic drivers on the road, frankly I feel safer in a car then I do in a plane. While I'm behind the wheel, at least I have some control over what I'm doing. In a plane, I have to trust that the pilot knows what he's doing and I have no control whatsoever. Maybe I have the reaction I do because I've only flown a handful of times in my life and I'm in cars all the time, so I'm more familiar with cars, but getting blown up in midair is not exactly a way that I want to go, I don't care how rarely plane crashes happen.

-- Anonymous, November 27, 2000

Okay, so I know the statistics and (as airline people are fond of saying) that the most dangerous part of an airplane trip is the drive to and from the airport. Also, I drive a relatively small car (Toyota Corolla) and I have to cope with all of those idiots in SUVs on my 21 mile commute to work (what is worse, many of them are Rhode Island drivers... some of the least competent drivers in the nation)

However, behind the wheel of a car I have at least the illusion of control (uh, except in the kind of ice storm you and your sister encountered on your way to the airport). In an airplane I am at the mercy of other people... the flight crew, the air traffic controllers (overworked and using antiquated equipment), the flight crews of all the other planes in the air around me, the mechanics who maintained this airplane (and whatever grudges and anger they may have about how they are treated by airline management)... plus wondering what corners have been cut by management in hopes of saving a few bucks... these being the same people who think the cramped cattle car conditions are fine, the same management responsible for horrible service... The same airlines that insist that a flight is on schedule and will depart on time (even though it is twenty minutes before takeoff and there is no airplane at the gate) only to admit once the designated take-off time has arrived that actually the plane is still on the ground at Newark or Chicago or whatever... Yes, I really feel good about putting my trust in all of them... they won't let me down (uh, so to speak)...

-- Anonymous, November 28, 2000

I haven't seen any statistics that back you up, Jen. It's commonly held that your chances of dying in an automobile accident are 1 in 100 while your chances of dying in an airplane accident are 1 in 20,000. On the surface this makes it seem like flying is much safer. That would be jumping to a possibly invalid conclusion.

If one considers the amount of time the average person spends in their car, versus the amount of time they spend flying, it is hardly surprising that the odds of dying in a car are much higher. You would have to facter in the average time a person spends in their car versus the average time a person spends in an airplane to get an accurate picture of the relative safety.

Secondly, the distribution must be considered. A lot of car accidents are the result of street racing, drunk driving, excessive speed, etc. If you don't fall into one of those high risk groups your chances of dying in an auto accident are going to be lower than the average.

-- Anonymous, November 29, 2000

Uh, I meant "factor."

-- Anonymous, November 29, 2000

I'm not sure how they compare the safety of planes to cars, but rather than time, you would probably have to look at miles traveled per person.

I would guess 10,000 miles in the air is probably safer than 10k on the roadway.

-- Anonymous, November 29, 2000


oh weell, it's 3 am and I'm tired,

-- Anonymous, November 29, 2000

I agree that the statistics surrounding the issue of flying vs. driving are complicated.

Many questions arise from this analysis--should you consider all flights or only commercial flights? Should you consider lifetime risk of death, or risk per hours traveled or risk per miles traveled? Should you take into account the risk of accidents which cause personal injury or property damage, but not death? And then there's the confounding factor that the number of fatalities from a single plane crash is typically far greater than that of a single car crash.

These questions are exactly why the lifetime risk statistics are most commonly cited, both in this case, and also in other epidemiologic considerations. It's probably the least accurate statistic for individuals, but it has the advantage of taking many of the confounding factors into account, which makes it the most accurate for the whole population studied.

You would argue, Dave, that the frequency of a behavior is a confounding factor in statistical analysis of its risk. I can see your point, but I also do think it's a valid consideration when you're looking at the overall danger of that behavior. If you smoke one cigarette, the impact on your health will most likely be negligible, but if you smoke 10 cigarettes a day for 20 years, it will likely kill you. This is why smoking, poor diet, and a sedentary lifestyle are the leading causes of preventable death in developed countries.

-- Anonymous, November 29, 2000

I'm not sure I got my point across. Let me make up some numbers to illustrate.

  lifetime hours
spent doing
(made up)
lifetime odds
of dying from
(generally accepted)
single hour odds
of dying from
car 15,000 1 in 100 1 in 1,500,000
airplane 75 1 in 20,000 1 in 1,500,000

If the numbers above were true, you should be equally at ease whether travelling by car or plane.

The waters are further muddied by the nature of aggregate odds. Are you an alcoholic? A carefree teen? A cab driver? A pilot? Do you travel in non-commercial airplanes? If you're not in any of the high risk groups your odds are much better, and precisely how much better would depend on the distribution.

I wish I had my Odds Almanac handy, but I distinctly remember a rather surprising statistic regarding pedestrians. Just walking down the street can get you killed with odds somewhat comparable to travelling in a car.

-- Anonymous, November 29, 2000

Of course I had to look it up when I got home.

The odds that a given individual will die next year as the result of an automobile accident:

as a driver or passenger: 1 in 4,000
as a pedestrian: 1 in 16,000

-- Anonymous, November 30, 2000

You know, sometimes you just have to think "outside of the box" to get out of bathroom stalls!

Gary Larson (The Far Side) had a cartoon of a tiny character with books in hand pushing up against a large door of a Special Education School clearly marked "Pull".

But not to be completely off topic, I once saw a show on accidents involving vehicles driven into bodies of water. What's scary is, they reported it was not uncommon to find people drowned in their cars, though they had broken their windows, or managed to roll them down, BUT never noticed the reason they couldn't get out was their seatbelts were still fastened.

-- Anonymous, November 30, 2000

I love flying. love driving too ( except in rush hour). as lot of people have pointed out, there is an illusion of control behind the wheel, while in a plane there isn't even that illusion. Of late, i do get queasy thoughts when i board a plane, that one never knows whats going to happen in the future, and while stats do indicate a low probability, that probability is not zero. but all the same, there is a chance of being popped off every single moment in life, and the more possible causes can run into thousands. When the time comes to be gone, there is nothing one can do about it. And so while i'm on the plane ( not having that illusion of control), i become a passive believer in destiny. Of course if i get a window seat, and if there isn't a continuous cloud layer then i'm happy to gaze out on to the surface of the earth :)

-- Anonymous, November 30, 2000

Dave! Get that book out, if you would. What are the statistics cars vs. airplanes? Is that 1/1,500,00 a correct calculation of those particular odds?

-- Anonymous, January 02, 2002

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