The Friendly Skies

Cars are far more dangerous.  From Nate Silver


That's one reason so many of us have been complaining about the TSA's latest security theater - it causes more people to drive and therefore results in more deaths.

Many security experts have been citing these statistics for years.

Is the jump from the mid 1990s to the mid 2000 purely explained by 9/11? The numbers seem too small considering we're talking per billion enplanements. What else explains it?

I stopped flying years ago.

It wasn't just the security theater. The legroom on planes kept getting smaller (I have bad knees), people were becoming ruder (an assclown cut in a line I was in and he was reading, I kid you not, "Looking Out for Number 1"), lines too long, flights canceled and delayed for hours, and lost luggage.

Now I drive and enjoy the drive. And if I don't have time to drive, I don't go. (Video Skype is your friend.)

While the most recent off-Broadway show in security theater may reduce the crowds a bit, I'm even more determined to not fly commercial again.

And I'm fully willing to accept the higher risk associated with driving.

(BTW - Can you imagine if this had happened while Bush was in office? Hahahahaha)

In Superfreakonomics, Levitt and Dubner point out the time spend checking shoes takes up 14 full lives a year when summed up. It makes me wonder if all the responses to 9/11 (even ignoring Iraq and Afghanistan) have cost more lives than 9/11 already.

How can cars be more dangerous in terms of 'violent passenger deaths'!? The closest 'act' I can think of is carjacking. But even that is a stretch. It’s not like I invite potential terrorists for a ride down to the local Starbucks in my Hyundai!

Even still, I’d bet the number of carjackings to number of ‘car-trips’ would show a rate lower than ‘enplanements’. I’ve only met one person who was carjacked, and she ‘lived’.

By this measure, the 2000s tied the 1990s for being the safest on record, each of which were about six times safer than any previous decade. About 22 passengers per one billion enplanements were killed as the result of VPIs during the 2000s; this compares with a rate of about 191 deaths per billion enplanements during the 1960s... But 9/11, of course, did not just kill people on the planes. Rather, nearly 3,000 of our citizens were murdered, the vast majority of whom were literally just going about their business in New York City or Arlington. If we include ground deaths in the total, we get a rather different picture, with the 2000s in fact being the worst decade on record.

And so on. Come on, try to follow the link next time before asking a question so easily answered by doing so.

Personal safety has nothing to do with TSA. Nothing. Its all about the political consequences of public humiliation by terrorists.


The vast majority of people believe they are among the very safest drivers. Yet another Lake Wobegone effect - everyone is above average.

No doubt, but the probability of being in a traffic accident is not the same for everyone, and is under the driver's control to a degree. We know that there are behaviors -drinking, excessive speed, driving while reading - that increase the probability, so those who avoid these behaviors have a lower than average chance of having an accident. And if the distribution of those behaviors is skewed, as it likely is, then indeed it is possible for most drivers to have a below average chance of being in an accident.

"Actually, I'd put it at even odds the possibility that noone up there has thought to do the calculation that I just did for you guys in 2 minutes. Seriously. Try it out on someone. They will look at you like you are nuts. So would Bush and Obama."

This study computed the effects of substituting driving for flying at 500 lives per year:

This idea that security causes deaths has been in circulation for years. I may not be a big fan of our recent leadership, but they aren't _that_ dumb. If I recall correctly, the Clinton and Bush White Houses both cited substitution effects when they declined to change lap-child rules for commercial aircraft, noting that requiring the purchase of a seat for each lap-child would result in more driving and hence more deaths.

I realize your computation is different, and additive.

This also speaks to why I disagree with TC's post of yesterday. We have A LOT of de-propagandizing to do before we can even begin to address the demands of the voters. They don't know what they should want because the people with the forum are not telling the whole truth and they are the ones constantly posturing.

And the constant "I'm willing to do whatever to keep me safe" from the news commentators tells me something else. As soon as that's not a politically correct mantra, those people will switch sides faster than you can blink.

.." driving while reading..."

Its bad enough that people read while driving.

“Because this is the apples-to-apples relevant comparison TODAY:

Do we spend our scarce resources to infinitesimally decrease violent death on planes and in so doing increase the number of miles driven? The answer is no...." - Andrew

All I’m saying is the odds of a ‘passenger violent death incident’ happening in my car are lower than then getting on any type of public transport, let alone air travel; owing to the nature of terrorism. And that’s any way you slice it, whether by passenger miles traveled or number of trips… (I don’t have data to back that, but I think that has got to be common sense.)

And I don’t agree with your premise. The safer I view air travel, the more likely I am to fly, not drive. If it takes me three hours to board a flight to New Zeland, it’s still less costly vs driving/boating/time spent getting there…et al.

And for those of you who aren't flat earthers when it comes to climate change, traveling by jet (avg. occupancy) is surprisingly less dangerous to the planet (and therefore its inhabitants) than driving a car solo. Carpooling, on the other hand, is a different story.

Some people are better than average drivers. The last time I saw numbers, the death rate per mile traveled was much higher for teenagers than for middle aged drivers. A big % of traffic deaths are people who are drunk. The death rate was higher at night and on weekends. So if you are driving at a safe speed in the daylight, not drunk and wearing your seatbelt, it changes your death rate. I read that the death rate per mile was 15 times higher for driving than flying. The gap probably narrows in my scenario.

Also, you can't fly without driving. You have to drive to the airport and once you get somewhere you have to drive to your hotel. Suppose I think about drving from San Antonio to Dallas instead of flying. For the most part, I will be on the interstate in light traffic. How dangerous can that be? Even if I fly, there is still the heavy local traffic in both cities getting to and from the airport whether I drive or take a cab.

"We've somehow gotten into this place where "a plane crash" means "we have lost.""

It's the government spending problem in another form. We've gotten used to buying too much airplane safety. We'd be better off if we tolerated more crashes. But I just don't see how you fix it.

Incidentally, the reason I believe we wouldn't have a lot to fear if we just got rid of all the security is that we don't see a lot of successful attacks on soft targets today. The combination of SEAL teams abroad and the FBI at home seems to be doing okay.

"We'd be better off if we tolerated more crashes. But I just don't see how you fix it."

I'm not entirely joking when I say the Air Force should randomly shoot down one passenger plane a year, just for practice. (Or for the lulz. You can justify anything with lulz.) It might get people used to the idea that planes sometimes, although very rarely, crash. And they would still be safer than driving.

(And, although this wasn't my original intention, if terrorists ever blow up a plane, the Air Force could plausibly say, "no way, it was us!")

We don't necessarily have to fall back to "no security" from today. What we were doing in the 1990's seemed very safe. Just add in secured cockpit doors, and passengers refusing to cooperate with hijackers, and a 9/11 becomes exceedingly unlikely.

"Most of the flight risk is involved in take-off and landing"

To be strictly technical, virtually all the risk is involved in the landing.

Okay Bill, I suspect you've flipped your wig, but what are you talking about?

Comments for this post are closed