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Safety of flying and driving after the attacks of 9/11 revisited

by Michael Sivak, Sivak Applied Research.

In 2003, Michael Flannagan and I published a detailed analysis of the relative safety of flying and driving in the United States. The flying data were for 1992 through 2001, and thus they included the year of the 9/11 attacks. The analysis showed that, despite the events of 9/11, flying was substantially safer than driving. Furthermore, the safety advantages of flying over driving increased with the distance traveled. This is the case because the risk of driving depends most strongly on the distance traveled, while the risk of flying is primarily affected by the number of takeoffs and landings.

This very brief note takes an updated quick look at the latest available data. Specifically, of interest here is the number of fatalities in each of the two transportation modes during a 10-year period from 2010 through 2019. (The raw data came from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.) In contrast with the detailed analysis in the previous study, this note focuses only on these two summary numbers and it lets the reader interpret the findings.

The results are shown in the table below. Note that there were no flying fatalities during 6 of the 10 years examined.

Motor-vehicle fatalities, 2010-2019 348,591
U.S. air-carrier fatalities, 2010-2019 16

Michael Sivak is the managing director of Sivak Applied Research and the former director of Sustainable Worldwide Transportation at the University of Michigan.



Fascinating! If only we could make flying more eco friendly.


2001 road deaths in USA: 42000
9/11 deaths: 3000
Less than 4 weeks road deaths.

Cost of war in Afghanistan: 2.3 Trillion dollars,
3500 coalition deaths,
111,000 Afghan deaths.

Be careful what you wish for.

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