It’s often said that driving in a car is more dangerous than flying in a plane, yet when an aeroplane crashes or a ship sinks, the nonstop media coverage that follows makes that claim hard to believe.
The sinking of the Costa Concordia cruise ship this month has once
again shone a spotlight on the overall safety of
transport. But considering how rare a disaster like this is, especially in
comparison to car crashes, it raises the
question, which mode of transportation is truly the safest?
Worldwide, there were only 373 fatalities on scheduled commercial
passenger flights in 2011, according to the non-profit Aviation Safety
Network Database. And according to the International Air
Transport Association, an airline trade organization,
there were 2.84 billion commercial passengers last year, which would roughly
mean your average odds of dying on a commercial flight were roughly one in 7.6
million in 2011.
Over the course of a lifetime, the risk increases. For
example, in a 2006 Reason magazine article, the National
Safety Council (NSC) reported that in the US the average person’s
odds of dying in a plane crash in their lifetime is about one in 5,000.
But contrast those odds to vehicular
fatalities. In the same article, the NSC reported that the odds of dying in a
car accident in the US over a lifetime was about one in 83. While the number of
global vehicle passengers and drivers may not be known, the World Health
Organization estimates that 1.2 million people die each year in road traffic accidents (roughly
half of which are pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists). So even though we drive more
than we fly, with apologies to Jack Kerouac and George Clooney, it seems that
there is basis for the claim that on the road is more dangerous than up in the
While cruises are more optional than planes and
vehicle when travelling, the odds of dying are nearly as slim as flying. As
for cruise ships, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), an
association of cruise lines, said that from 2005 to 2011 only 16 people died in cruise accidents, out of 100
million passengers, putting the odds of death over that period at one in 6.25
million. But the Costa Concordia disaster doubled that fatality number in the
early days of 2012. (The death
toll from the recent accident has currently reached 16, and there
are still at least 16 people still missing.)
new report by Reuters questions the validity of any cruise safety statistics
because there is no public database on cruise line accidents. The International
Maritime Organisation (IMO), which provides regulations for cruise ships, does not
keep complete records of marine casualties but recorded fewer than 300
incidents since 2000, while the independent website CruiseJunkie, run by sociology professor
of Memorial University Newfoundland, has published reports of 644 incidents in
the same period.
Whatever the number, the
industry can always increase safety. With the investigation into the Costa
Concordia disaster, the IMO’s regulations -- which, according to Reuters, are open
to interpretation by governments, captains and operators -- are falling under
scrutiny. For instance, passengers on the Costa Concordia had not
completed a lifeboat safety drill, because ships have 24 hours after
setting sail to hold the drill. Now some in the industry are calling for cruise lines to take charge
of this protocol and require safety drills before the ships depart.
At the end of the day, you
have to get from point A to point B -- be it for business, pleasure or personal
obligations. The best you can do is take the proper precautions, sit back (or
up, if you’re driving) and relax. Here are some travel safety tips for driving, taking public transit, flying
and cruising. If you’re still nervous, this BBC Travel article highlights which airlines had the
safest track records in 2011, and you can learn about incidents at sea at the website CruiseJunkie.