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Are Planes The Safest Way To Travel?

Author : Wendy Ally

Submitted : 2011-03-18 07:53:33    Word Count : 441    Popularity:   137

Tags:   rail travel, airplane travel, airplane safety, travel safety, plane safety

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A comparison of railroad safety to that of other forms of transportation, including commercial and general aviation, as well as transport by way of automobile, is somewhat inconclusive due to the fact that authorities tabulate passenger usage for each mode of transportation differently. Passenger railroad usage, for instance, is measured in terms of 'passenger miles', which is defined as the movement of one passenger for one mile, while commercial airline usage is metricized under 'passenger hours', which is defined as the movement of one passenger in flight for one hour. Such comparisons are further complicated by the fact that commercial aviation and rail carriers are largely serving different consumer markets: Most air travel is between cities while most passenger rail travel is within metropolitan regions. However, a simplified look at overall fatalities and accidents for all modes of travel reveals that both rail and commercial aviation travel are significantly safer than travel by way of automobile.

Between January and November of 2010, which is the last period for which the Federal Railroad Authority has reported data, there were a total of 674 accidents which resulted in a total of 705 individual fatalities. However, most of these fatalities were not related to passenger transport and instead involved deaths due to trespassing in freight yards or motorists who were trying to beat rail crossings. Of the 553,511,038 passengers who were carried 16,556,437,582 miles there were only 3 deaths and 1143 injuries, which equates to a frequency of 6.92 accidents per 100,000,000 passenger miles.

In comparison, there were no fatalities in 2010 for all US airlines, giving commercial aviation a current fatality frequency of exactly zero. However, the last fatal commercial accident in the United States, that of Colgan Air Flight 3407 in February of 2009, involved the deaths of 50 people. The last fatal passenger rail accident in the US, involving the collision of two Washington Metro trains in June of 2009, resulted in nine deaths. A quick perusal of any list of major accidents confirms what these two anecdotes reveal: Though rail fatalities are statistically more common, aviation disasters typically involve more deaths per incident.

Both commercial aviation and passenger rail, however, seem safe when compared to automobile travel: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 37,261 fatalities for 4,871,683 passenger miles in 2008. Though road mileage may be underestimated, the higher frequency of automobile accidents is obvious.

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Both airplane maintenance and railroad maintenance are heavily regulated by the federal government, while automotive operation is much more loosely governed. This, too, results in a higher safety record for the first two forms of travel.

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