Risk associated with driving grossly underestimated

“We all have to die from something!” How many times have you heard that said? It is true that there will be a determined cause for most all human deaths, and most of us will be dead within 100 years from our birth, but just how risky everyday things are in our lives is grossly misunderstood.

For instance, more people are afraid of flying because we overestimate the risks associated with that means of transportation, yet these same persons who fear flying never hesitate to drive or ride in an automobile.

Statistics show that it is 200 times more dangerous to travel in an automobile than to fly. If you are surprised by this, just Google “risk of dying” or something similar, and see just what the odds are for various causes. Obviously, heart disease and cancer lead the list, but you may be surprised to see how close to the top motor vehicle accidents are.

The reality of real risk versus perceived risk becomes very interesting. For instance, if a commercial jetliner crashed somewhere in the U.S., killing about 100 people, the headlines in the following day’s newspapers would leave no doubt as to the enormity of the tragedy. Now, suppose the day after the first plane crashed, the same thing happened again. Two jetliners crashing in two days? Really? How many people with flight tickets for the third day do you think would cancel?

But, the reality of life in the U.S. is that about 100 persons are killed every day in motor vehicle crashes, yet no one I know hesitates to get into a car each and every day. And, this doesn’t even take into account that more than 2 million people in the U.S. are injured by motor vehicle crashes annually. No matter how we perceive the risk of vehicles, from the reality of high risk to the perception that the risk is small, the benefits of motor vehicle transportation outweigh the risk.

The point is that we overestimate the risk of flying and underestimate the risks associated with driving. We should be far more fearful of driving or riding in a car than flying, but for most of us that is not the case. If we truly were cognizant of the real dangers of motor vehicle travel, why would we even think of texting, talking on a cell phone, eating or drinking, or any other distraction as we drive? Because we don’t associate vehicle travel with a very real danger, we find no reason not to multi-task. After all, crashes happen to other drivers, never us.

A day or two after the Boston Marathon explosions, which killed three persons and injured over 100, I overheard someone comment that the world had become so dangerous that the only thing to do was to go to work then go home and go to bed. Obviously that person was fearful of what might happen because of unstable people, but failed to realize that that one incident killed only three people, and apparently wasn’t at all concerned that 100 other people were killed that same day in motor vehicle crashes.

So what is the point? It is simply that we need to be more aware of the real risks involved with daily motor vehicles. It is a proven fact that we are much more careful, and pay much closer attention if we perceive some level of risk than if we don’t. Have you ever seen a tightrope walker not pay 100-percent attention to his stunt? Of course not, because there is a high level of risk in his performance. There is a much higher level of risk in driving than most of us realize – treat driving with the same respect a tightrope walker treats his performance on a high wire.

For more articles, visit the Traffic Safety Board website at www.franklincony.org.