Is Flying Really More Dangerous Than Driving?

If you were to ask people if they were more afraid of flying than driving, most would say yes. It seems that when you’re high in the air, your risk of dying is much higher (literally) than when you’re a couple of feet off the ground in a car.

But before you look into modifying your living trust and making your last will and testament as you board a plane, let’s look at the facts. Statistically speaking, the likelihood of dying in a driving accident is significantly higher than for those flying in a plane.

So why are people more afraid of flying than they are of driving? Let’s break down some of the fears and science behind the dangers of driving vs. flying.

Driving Accident Statistics

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) publishes yearly reports on accidents that occur in the United States each year. Their data has some telling information about your likelihood of dying in a car accident. In the most recent report from 2018:

  • There were 33,654 fatal motor crashes with more than 36,560 deaths.
  • More than half of auto crash deaths occurred in single-vehicle crashes.
  • Distracted driving including texting, talking, reaching for things, playing with the radio, etc. is the number one cause of vehicle accidents.
  • Young drivers are more likely to be in accidents than those 30 and older.
  • There are about 11.2 deaths per 100,000 people on the road.
  • Mississippi is the most dangerous state to drive in according to this data and Washington D.C. is the safest.

Flying Accident Statistics

Let’s contrast some of the driving statistics above with flight statistics. The Flight Safety Foundation published a report for 2018 with the following notable information:

  • 381 people perished in aviation accidents in 2018.
  • This is 50 people more than in 2017.
  • The fatal accident rate for airplanes is 1.029 accidents per 100,000 flight hours.

Another report showed that fatal airline crashes fell by 50 percent in 2019.

Your Odds of Dying in a Plane vs. Car

As you can see, there are far fewer fatal accidents in airplanes than there are in vehicles, at least as the numbers show. It’s also important to note that there are far fewer injuries in air travel than in car travel. There are almost no injuries per year in air travel while there are 80 injuries per 100 million miles in car travel.

So, the next time you get on an airplane, recognize that you’re actually traveling in one of the safest forms of travel. It’s even safer than travel on the subway, bus, boats, bicycles, and other forms of travel.

The Science of Transportation Fears

Even knowing that you’re truly unlikely to die or even skin a knee when boarding a plane, it doesn’t always assuage a person’s fear of flying. This indicates that the deep-rooted fear of flying may stem from other elements.

Fear of flying may be connected to a person’s fear of heights. The same can be said for heights—it’s unlikely that a person who visits the top of a 10-story building will fall off, yet that doesn’t take away the fear of being so far from the ground. When you’re floating in an airplane, you’re higher up than most people could ever normally be, so it follows that fear would be present.

Additionally, it’s hard to shake the knowledge that plane crashes almost always yield fatalities rather than just injuries. When you’re driving in a car and you crash, it’s far more likely that you’ll experience an injury than it is that you’ll lose your life. In a typical plane crash, you’re much more likely to face fatality.

Preventing Automotive Accidents

After reading this article, you might end up with a greater fear of driving or riding in a car than you ever had of flying. But you don’t need to cower in fear because there are many things you can do to prevent automotive accidents.

The first and perhaps most important is to keep your vehicle in good shape. Find a mechanic that you can trust to look over your vehicle and tell you honestly what it might need. They can tune up your vehicle and make recommendations on parts that need fixing now or later. This will prevent mechanical failure that contributes to many automobile accidents.

You can also brush up on the rules of the road. Recognize what road signs mean, when conditions are unsafe for driving, and how to handle your vehicle in poor weather conditions. Consider practicing driving in controlled conditions like a parking lot to reduce your risks of injury.

Take all the safety precautions in your vehicle. The most important is to wear your seat belt. This is not cliché advice—buckling up literally saves lives. Check your rear-view mirrors, avoid using your cell phone, and don’t engage in other distracting behaviors.

These are all simple safety measures you can take to reduce your risk of ending up in a car accident. As you prepare to hit the road, you’ll find your fears are replaced with confidence that can help you drive more safely.