The last few days have seen an array of horrific rail and road accidents: train crashes in France, Spain, and Switzerland, as well as an unfortunate coach accident within Italy in addition to, with the same global attention and media attention, the regular death toll caused by a road accident. It is clear that we are in danger when traveling; however, how much risk are we taking? What amount do we want to spend to minimize that risk?
The most serious accidents are typically preceded by a statement from a minister that reads: “We will not allow this to happen again, our railways (airlines, coaches etc) must be completely safe”. In a deeper analysis, it is clear that the attainment of complete security is a difficult task, no matter how admirable the intention.
Statistics published in the UK show the following trends in general that averaged out over the period between 2002 and 2011. The risk of dying in a train or on an aircraft is so low that it can be virtually the same. Buses and coaches cause 0.3 deaths per billion kilometers of travel. Cars are ten times more hazardous than that, cycling 100 times, walking 100 times, and motorbikes nearly 300 times. What is the best way to interpret these figures? It is important to distinguish between relative or comparative risks and risk that is absolute.
For starters, even for motorcycles, which are the most risky method of transport, the risk of 98 deaths per billion passenger miles traveled implies that we must travel around 10,000,000 miles on average to be involved in a fatal crash. This would be approximately 13 trips round trip to the moon – well over what the most avid motorcyclists complete in their many years of motorcycling.
Designing with perfection
We have generally taken steps to improve our absolute safety on roads, for instance, through design (seat belts as well as Crumple zones and ABS brakes) through laws (drink law, speed limit, and cameras), improvement to our roads (better roads and lighting, as well as camber). The efforts resulted in a significant increase in safety. Since 1950, deaths per billion miles of vehicle have decreased from 100 to around five.
The security of trains has been increased, which includes the development of crash-proof carriages as well as better signaling systems and an implementation of a type of automatic control to stop signals, for instance, from getting lost in the process of being crossed at risk. Further improvements are to be put into place.
However, in reality, train travel is quite secure. The cumulative total of people killed by the UK railways from the beginning was much less than the amount of deaths on our roads every year until recently. It is possible to decrease the risk for railways more, however, without a cost that could force people away from railways and onto more dangerous modes of transportation.
We also take risks because of the rewards we get from the risks we take. In the extreme, I love rock climbing and am willing to accept the chance because I love the feeling of knowing that I’m in control of a potentially dangerous situation. However, the risk we take on the public transportation system is an accepted risk that we have a higher tolerance threshold.
However, it does not justify the excessive exposure in the media of shocking accounts of accidents and the demands for quick explanations. Following a thorough and thorough analysis, all accidents yield lessons that can be utilized to enhance security in the near future.
Your life or your money?
I close with my stern test on the safety of airplanes and their choices. I encourage my audience to think about, on the one hand, the standard aircraft they have been on before for cheap holidays and, secondly, a plane that has more safety features. Actually, it is an aircraft that is 100 times more secure than the current model. It is up to the passengers to decide which type of aircraft they’d like to take on their journey.
The issue is that not only is the plane 100 times safer, but in order to cover this upgrade, the prices are also 100 times more expensive. Thus, the PS50 return cost is PS5000 and is a substantial expense. It is important to remind the participants that on a single plane journey, the chance of being killed is virtually zero on any plane. What plane would you pick?