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Driving a car is one of the safer things you can do.

The purpose is to challenge the perception that road accident risk is a high risk. It isn't. The talk "If cars could talk..." begins with the statement that driving is dangerous. The theme in this talk is common throughout popular media.

We are saturated with messages about how dangerous it is to drive. This is not true. The facts say otherwise. Hence my example that the fatality risk of using stairs is 100 times greater.

Rate of deaths from stairs = 56 fatalities per 100 million miles.
Rate of deaths driving a car = 0.56 fatalities per 100 million miles.

As the proposed title says "driving a car is of the safer things you can do" which runs totally counter to the common mis-perception.

  • Jun 23 2013: Driving a car appears dangerous because a lot people engage in the activity and it is well publicized. But a large societal risk does not mean that something is individually more dangerous than something else.
  • Jun 22 2013: Hi Edward, yes, stairs are one such example.
  • Jun 21 2013: Hi Karl, "Stairmageddon" from "The Office" sounds like it will be funny but I can't seem to find it online. Do you have a link. John
  • Jun 21 2013: I believe it's easier to die in a car accident than alot of other things besides stairs....

    Why don't we have bumper cars on the road, I always wondered that. The padding is much more effective and useful on the street than it is on a race track, but that's just my silly logic.
    • Jun 23 2013: Hi Uniqea, It is easier overall because of the total amount, yes. But while the activity is being done, mile for mile, or hour for hour, the risk is less.
    • Jun 23 2013: Hi Uniqea, Your padding idea is not silly logic. It is a good idea. A more compliant, crash friendly environment on the road has made a lot of difference and could do more.
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    Jun 21 2013: The National Safety Council reveals almost 12,000 thousand deaths each year occurs at homes due to stair accident falls. Among unintended injuries stair fall is second after automobile crashes. If you are constructing a convincing argument regarding the relative safety of automobile travel you should compare it to underwater cave diving, or playing Russian Roulette. Do you have statistics for everyday activities that are more dangerous than travelling in an automobile?
    • Jun 21 2013: Hi Edward, Thank you for the comment. In total automobile accidents is higher than stair falls as you say. So for total society risk automobiles are greater.

      But for individual risk on an incremental basis, stairs are more dangerous than driving a car. The individual risk when using stairs is greater per mile of travel (about 100 x) or per hour of use (about 10 x).
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        Jun 22 2013: Since you seem to like statistics and you have a desire to dispell the perception that car travel is dangerous I must ask again, do you have statistics for everyday activities that are more dangerous than travelling in an automobile?
      • Jun 23 2013: It doesn't matter John, the fact is that people travel incomparably much more miles by car than by stairs. You are building a fallacious argument for the safety of cars by looking for an artificial way to make it sound as if they're safer than other familiar things. The probability of dying in a car accident are much higher than those of dying using the stairs.
        • Jun 23 2013: Hi "Entropy Driven". Fair enough. But probability according to what measure?
  • Jun 21 2013: There is a catch on those statistics, I'm pretty sure the majority of the people that dies in a stair case is either too old, too sick or both, however most people dying in car accidents are either young, healthy or both, maybe if those statistics would take into account only the people with a driver's licence the numbers would yield a very different result. So, I'm not sure the statistics you present are accurate or even reliable, but even if they are I see nothing wrong with making cars even safer.

    We are saturated with messages about how dangerous it is to drive for one reason: As a driver you are not in full control of the situation. You control only ONE car, all the other cars and people on the streets are out of your control, you cannot predict which car is been driven by a drunk, or tired, or irritated, or reckless (or all of the above) driver. When you drive you are exposed to all sorts of impressible dangers, from a careless biker crossing you way to a tree branch falling unexpectedly, not to mention natural phenomena that can block your visibility, including rain, snow, fog, dust storms, etc, and which can trigger all sorts of unpredictably dangerous reactions on the drivers ahead and behind you. When you drive just a one second distraction can be enough to get you killed, to answer you cell phone while driving can be the last thing you do.
    • Jun 21 2013: Hi George, You raise an interesting point.

      In the case of falls they affect the the elderly disproportionately as you say but they also affect the very young in a "bathtub" curve shape so that will bring down the average age. For instance the NEISS data shows risk of injury (not fatality) from stairs, ramps, landings and floors (i.e. not just stairs) is highest for 0-4 and 65+ and about equal in between.

      The figures I used for fatal risk (from NBS) are not split by age. The risk calculations are here:
      • Jun 22 2013: Ok, thanks for the reference, but I still think the way danger is measured is incorrect or at least counter intuitive, as an average it might be accurate, but in order to feel secure at any activity you need to feel you have control, (healthy) people feel in full control when they walk stairs or get inside the bathtub, it seems very unlikely to get killed due to someone else's mistake, when you drive however you are (or at least should be) aware you aren't in full control of the situation and it seems probable to get killed because someone else's mistake. So even if the data you show is reliable and accurate, the general perception is not that.

        But the regardless of statistics, I think trying to make cars safer is not a bad thing.
        • Jun 23 2013: Hi George, Yes, making cars safer is a good thing. But other things matter too.
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    Jun 20 2013: To me, it seems there is some error in your statistics:
    1. Cars will transport you much more distance in a time period then taking the stairs will. To clarify, if I drove for one hour in a car, I may travel 60 miles or more (maybe around 30 on streets I don't really know). But if I walked up and down stairs for an hour, I doubt I'd get anywhere close to even 10 miles. This point was just trying to show that you may reach 100 million miles in a car much faster than taking stairs and then it may be considered more dangerous.
    2. People use cars much more than they use stairs, so it'd be hard to compare them with any statistic. For example, you may have to walk up stairs for work (like in The Office during Stairmageddon), but to get to work you'd have to travel several miles. This is again just showing you most likely will hit 100 million miles (or whatever distance or even period of time) in a car, before you hit that same distance or period of time taking the stairs.
    • Jun 21 2013: Hi Karl,

      Thank you for the contribution. Yes, the total distance is greater in cars but that is related to total risk not incremental individual risk.

      For example in total playgrounds are involved in 320,000 times more injuries to 5-14 year olds than chainsaws. But that does not mean that a 10 year old is safer playing with a chainsaw than on a playground.

      To know individual incremental risk - how dangerous is this for me given a set amount of use - we need to divide the total outcome by the total exposure. Hence the calculation that traveling on stairs - per unit of distance - for an individual is 100 times greater than driving a car.
      • Jun 23 2013: But dividing both cars and stairs by mile does not measure the risk by exposure, but by mile.
        • Jun 23 2013: Distance is one form of exposure. It is the common exposure measure in transport and walking is a measure of transport.

          Time would be an alternative.

          For the time exposure comparison we need the ratio of the average speed of both methods. I think about 10:1 would be of the right order. Perhaps your trip computer measures average speed since new. Mine shows an average over 30,000 miles of about 25mph. Compared to say 2.5mph for walking - although probably a bit less on stairs - but close enough just for the sake of an order of magnitude estimation we have a ratio of something in the order of 10:1.

          At that rate stairs are ten times more dangerous than driving a car per hour of use.