Is Flying or Driving Safer?
Flying commercial airplanes has been widely called safer than driving. But what is ignored is that the data that is used to support this conclusion is put together for the most part by biased parties that have an interest that those statistics show that flying is safer than driving.
And anyone that knows about statistics knows that statistics can be twisted to support any conclusion. So it is with the "flying is safer than driving" statistics. Boeing says flying is 22 times safer than driving, which, as expected, is about the most biased statistic out there on the subject. Boeing wants people to fly, so a "flying is safer than driving" conclusion is what they want so they can publicize it.
But is flying a commercial jet safer than driving when examined by someone without bias? In a word: no. In more than one word: hell no:
Ex-inspector throttles FAA.
(former Dept. of Transportation Inspector General Mary Schiavo)
Insight on the News; 6/9/1997; Berg, Stacie Zoe
Is flying the safest way to travel? Not according to this critic of the airlines and their regulators.
Mary Schiavo, former inspector general of the Department of Transportation, has become an outspoken consumer advocate and controversial figure whose new book, Flying Blind, Flying Safe (Avon Books, 373 pp), takes Congress and the Federal Aviation Administration to task. In an interview with Insight Schiavo talks candidly about the "holes in the aviation safety net."
Q: How can the public learn more about the reports the FAA buries?
A: The FAA promised to put airline accident and incident information on the Internet. Now the FAA says they do not rank or rate airlines. So what do they do? They just dump raw data on the Internet. In fact, the FAA does have ratings and rankings of airlines. They rate them on numbers of accidents and incidents and pilot deviations. And they collect near mid-air-collision rates. But they don't make that available to the public. Why don't they, every year, have a press conference like they do for on-time arrivals and lost-bag claims?
Q: How problematic are bogus parts?
A: Bogus parts are a very big problem, compounded by the fact that the FAA refuses to acknowledge the problem and doesn't really do much about it at all. Now, for example, they're pointing to the flap that fell off the Delta plane as possibly due to substandard bolts -- that's a polite term for bogus parts. At repair stations, we found 43 percent were suspected bogus parts. Recently the Justice Department sued Boeing for using substandard parts.
Q: Is flying safer than driving?
A: Statistically that is the case if you figure it on a per-(hour) basis. When you figure it on a per-trip basis, car, train and bus come out safer than the airplane.
(note the correction in parenthesis. The article on the net said "per-trip" in that place, which obviously an error. "Per-hour" is the correct term.)
So, if you are unbiased (and I think Ms. Schiavo is about unbiased and independent as anyone is with any knowledge of aviation) and consider an "apples to apples" comparison on a per trip basis, flying is more dangerous than driving, taking the train, or the bus.
Surprising? Data can contradict conventional wisdom if conventional wisdom is biased, as it is in this case.
Biased "experts" use the per-hour statistic because it favors aviation due to the fact that it spreads the riskiest parts of flying--takeoff and landing--over all of the hours of a flight, therefore making flying seem safer than driving because the average flight is much longer than the average car trip.
But using the much more common-sensical statistic of per trip, driving and other modes of transportation are safer than flying.
Obviously what should be compared is the likelihood that you will arrive at your destination in one piece. Using the per-trip method is the way to make that much more valid comparison.
But what is also ignored in the statistics is that driving and flying need to be compared by more than just fatalities per year in each mode of travel. Statistics generally use the fatalities in car accidents each year and compare them to fatalities in airliner accidents.
However, to do so is misleading. Car travel is a whole different animal than air travel. As anyone who drives knows, almost anyone can get a license to drive, even if they should never have gotten one. Also, drivers drive even when they don't have a license to drive. Then there is the issue of drunk driving, which claims many of the annual fatalities used in the statistics.
When was the last time a commercial airline pilot crashed a plane because they were drunk? The automobile fatalities should be adjusted to eliminate the "natural selection" type deaths that have no similar example in airplane accident deaths, such as a drunk person passing out and driving off the road, killing themselves. The statistics should compare the likelihood of death of the average responsible driver per trip to the likelihood of death of someone flying per trip. If that much more valid comparison was made, the already less safe mode of travel of flying would be much more fatal than driving.
Add to that the problem I have witnessed denoted elsewhere on this site of commercial airplanes being delivered to airlines for the most part not inspected as required, and, going forward, flying promises to become even more unsafe than it is now than driving, I strongly believe.
So, when flying, cross your fingers you arrive safely, because that is essentially the method used currently to ensure your safety while flying by the FAA and Boeing. What do you do when inspections and audits (which are supposed to be the method to ensure your safety) are rollerstamped by Boeing and the FAA routinely? Right. Just cross your fingers and hope you are safe, hoping the defects on the plane you are flying on overlooked by that rollerstamping are not severe enough to make your death into a statistic.