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Nonstop flying is safer than driving

In: Risk Analysis, Vol. 11, No. 1, 1991, p. 145-148; DOI: 10.1111/j.1539-6924.1991.tb00584.x

Authors: Michael Sivak, Michael J. Flannagan, Daniel J. Weintraub

The relative safety of driving and flying is important in many situations that involve selecting a mode of transportation. The traditional view, that flying via scheduled airlines is safer than driving, has recently been challenged by Evans et al.(1) They concluded that for a low-risk driver it is safer to drive on rural interstate highways (the safest roads) than to fly if the trip length is less than 602 miles. We reestimated the fatality probabilities for flying by taking into account that the risk of flying is dependent on the number of nonstop segments flown, but, for all practical purposes, is independent of the length of the trip. Our calculations indicate that, for average or high-risk drivers, it is always safer to fly than to drive. Furthermore, even for a low-risk driver, nonstop flying is safer than driving on rural interstate highways for a trip distance of more than 303 miles; the corresponding breakeven distances for flights that involve two and three segments are 606 and 909 miles, respectively.