It’s a question you can’t help but wonder as that jet begins to taxi down the runway, the engines roar to life, and you start to ascend thousands of feet into the air toward an exciting destination: Are airplanes safer than cars?
It’s a fear you likely don’t have when driving to your local grocery store or in an Uber on your way home from a friend’s house. But the truth is, according to statistics from the United States government, flying on a plane on average is overwhelmingly safer than driving a car.
Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that in 2015, there were 32,166 fatal motor vehicle accidents that lead to just over 35,000 deaths. That comes out to be 1.13 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, and nearly 11 people for every 100,000 U.S. residents.
Contrast these numbers to U.S. airline accidents recorded by the National Transportation Safety Board: In 2015, preliminary statistics revealed a total of 27 total accidents — zero of which was fatal. Of the accidents that did occur, just 0.155 happened for every 100,000 flight hours. Airline accidents per one million miles flown came in at a rate of 0.0035.
Put it another way: Americans have a 1 in 114 chance of dying in a car crash, according to the National Safety Council. The odds of dying in air and space transport incidents, which include private flights and air taxis, are 1 in 9,821. That’s almost three times better chances than you meeting your fate by choking on food.
In pure statistical terms, it’s more dangerous to drive a car than to fly on a plane. But it’s easy to see why the public often assumes otherwise. Car accidents may happen every day across the U.S., but many of them are minor with little or no injury. Airplane crashes, on the other hand, can be catastrophic, deadly events.
That said, airlines meticulously inspect their equipment and hire professionally trained pilots to ensure a smooth flight every time.