I had originally intended this to become a larger writeup about the differences in safety among transportation types, but finding good “apples to apples” data between transportation types and their usable datasets can be pretty tricky. So I’ll start with some basics I was able to glean from a few simple queries on the NHTSA website.

Let’s start with the headlines:

Fatalities are at an all-time low! But driving is still incredibly dangerous!

Americans drove 2.99 BILLION miles in 2013 and there were 32,719 fatalities from driving. The standard statistic that comes out of this is 1.09 fatalities per hundred million miles. And historically speaking, this is a really low number. In fact, it’s hard to even wrap your head around this.

But I wondered how much “noise” there might be in that number, which includes people in other vehicles, as well as pedestrians. Just like the murder rate of a city is often quoted as a single number like a sports score, how many of those murders are really domestic violence or gang-on-gang activity? Not that those types of murders are any less heinous, but to a person casually traveling to that city, they can be almost meaningless in terms of whether you’ll be killed just walking down the street. In most cases, if you’re not in a gang or an abusive relationship, murder rates are fairly low.

So here’s my revision to make the statistic more relevant to responsible drivers: What is the death rate to occupants of the crashed vehicle when seat belts are worn and drugs/alcohol were not definitively a factor in the accident?

5,272 deaths, or a rate of 0.18 fatalities over that same hundred million miles, (or about 16% of all auto-related fatalities).

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Like the murder analogy, this may not serve to make people feel any better about car-related deaths, but I think it paints a more accurate picture about the risks to the driver and passengers who wear seat belts, don’t drive drunk, don’t run people over, and are fortunate enough to not be hit by another jackass...who, statistically, is very likely to be drinking.

Just food for thought on how statistics are used and how they might be made more relevant to our lives...