Many people enjoy traveling, and while some might like a little excitement and adventure thrown in, most prefer their travel to be safe and uneventful.
If you’re in the latter category, you might be asking yourself about the least dangerous modes of transport, and to give you the answer, in this post, we answer the question, what is the safest way to travel?
Safest Way to Travel: The short answer
Let’s start with a short answer to the question.
The safest way to travel is by plane. And which is the least safe way to travel? It’s by motorcycle, and after that by private car.
And yet many people are nervous about flying – and some are even so afraid of traveling by plane that they avoid flying altogether. At the same time, hardly anybody is afraid to get into a car to travel, even though doing so is far more dangerous than flying.
So now let’s look at each of these different ways of traveling to see why flying is the safest way to travel and why the fear of flying is an irrational – if in some ways understandable – reaction.
Rating modes of transport by safety
Here are the major modes of transport ranked in order of least dangerous to most dangerous in the United States.
Most people will have heard that flying is the safest way of traveling, but if this is the case, why are so many people afraid of taking a plane?
Although even not so long ago, flying was relatively risky, nowadays, the chances of dying in a plane crash in the US are vanishingly small – and this is due to a number of reasons. For example:
- Everybody involved is extremely well trained and highly qualified – especially those flying the plane, but including all the support staff as well. For example, a pilot needs to log at least 1,500 hours of flight time before they can become a first officer on commercial flights,
- A whole team of people is always working together to make sure everything goes as planned and that no mistakes are made. Specifically, pilots, first officers, navigators and flight dispatchers all work in unison, monitoring and checking each other’s work to make sure nothing is missed, providing multiple layers of safety.
- Modern commercial aircraft carry an incredible amount of hi-tech equipment designed to spot and correct any issues that might arise. Furthermore, almost everything is designed so that if something fails, something else can back it up.
- Strict regulations must always be adhered to – and flights are constantly monitored and reviewed to ensure this always happens.
- Unlike on the roads, planes in the sky don’t need to worry about other incompetent or irrational drivers, and there is far less traffic to worry about up there.
As a result of all this, you are highly unlikely to die in a plane crash, and the figures back this up.
For example, since the year 2000, the highest number of fatalities per 10,000 departures in the US was 0.027, in 2005. However, most years, it’s much lower – and in many years, there are no fatalities at all.
Another interesting number that should reassure nervous flyers is that there are only around 0.07 fatalities per one billion miles traveled, a number so small it’s hard to even get your head around it.
Perhaps surprisingly, the second safest way of traveling in the US is by bus. Although buses use most of the same roads as private cars, you have a much lower chance of being injured or killed in a bus crash – and buses are even statistically safer than trains.
When bus crashes happen, they tend to make the news due to the higher numbers of people involved – but another reason they feature in the news when they occur is that they are newsworthy precisely because they are so rare. They just don’t happen that often.
This is due to improved infrastructure as well as generally skilled, well-trained and experienced drivers. So if you’re looking for a safe way to travel, bus is another option to consider.
Trains are also an incredibly safe way to travel. They don’t have to worry about dodging traffic or avoiding other incompetent drivers, and they provide a fast, convenient and comfortable way to get about.
Unfortunately, when train crashes occur, they can be catastrophic, so they feature heavily in news bulletins. However, they are also incredibly rare, which is what makes them so newsworthy.
Rather, most deaths related to train travel come from either people trespassing on the tracks or accidents on level crossings, things we don’t tend to hear much about. But for the passengers inside, the chance of being killed or badly injured in a train crash is tiny.
Most people don’t think twice about jumping in a car, either for short journeys or for multi-day trips across the country, and most Americans probably travel by car almost every day.
However, despite feeling so comfortable and safe, cars are statistically far more dangerous than planes, buses or trains.
Many people have bad driving habits such as tailgating, weaving in and out of traffic, driving too fast or overtaking on the wrong lane.
Drivers can be careless or reckless, they can drive dangerously when tired or under the influence of alcohol or other drugs and drivers can experience road rage, causing them to drive even more aggressively, recklessly and dangerously.
As a result of all this, no matter how good a driver you are, you are always at risk of being in an accident, even through no fault of your own.
According to some figures, 7.28 deaths are recorded per billion miles traveled by car, which works out at roughly 100 times more than if you travel by plane.
Although the numbers killed in car crashes may come as a shock – or perhaps not – the fact that traveling by motorcycle is the most dangerous form of transport will be less of a surprise.
Two-wheeled vehicles are inherently less stable than those with four, and it’s easier to fall off a motorcycle in wet or slippery conditions.
This is coupled with the fact that on a motorcycle, you have nothing to protect you beyond your helmet and whatever rugged clothing you are wearing, which sharply increases the chances of a bad outcome if you are involved in an accident on a motorcycle.
Per billion miles traveled, an average of 212.57 deaths occur, a number far higher even than car travel.
A note on boat travel
We haven’t included boat travel above since there is a huge difference between recreational boating and traveling by commercial boat.
By far the highest number of boat-related deaths each year occur in recreational activities, while commercial boats such as ferries are incredibly safe.
This means if you put all boat-related deaths together, boats seem more dangerous than they are – but if you are traveling by commercial boat, you are extremely unlikely to be injured or killed.
Why the disconnect between how people feel about cars and planes?
A big question that arises is why is there such a disconnect between how people feel about traveling by plane and by car. People tend to be much more afraid of flying yet think nothing about taking a car – but rationally, it should be the other way around.
There are a few reasons.
First, humans don’t have wings, and we’re not meant to fly, so being 42,000 feet up in the sky feels unnatural and scary to many people.
Then there’s the fact that plane crashes are more often reported in the news than car crashes, but this is because car crashes happen so often and aren’t considered newsworthy.
When we see plane crashes in the news, it shocks and frightens us – but on the contrary, it should make us feel better about flying because plane crashes are so uncommon.
Another reason is that when plane crashes happen, they tend to be catastrophic, involving many deaths – it’s much easier to survive a car accident than a plane crash.
And finally, there’s also the fact that when a car breaks down, you don’t drop out of the sky to your death – but in the rare case of mechanical failure in a plane, that’s usually what awaits you, however unlikely it is to occur.
So for all these reasons, despite the statistical probability of dying in a plane crash being incredibly small, flying still makes certain people much more nervous than driving.
Plane is the safest way to go
So there you have it – plane travel is the safest while private cars and motorcycles are the most dangerous. However, if you travel to other countries, the safety records of various means of transport might not be quite what you’d expect in the United States.
Just for example, Thailand’s roads are notoriously dangerous, flying in Indonesia is much less safe and India’s railway system is notoriously accident-prone, so be careful how you choose to get about – and safe travels while you’re away!