As every frequent traveller knows, flying is safer than crossing the road. Confidence in the aviation industry is occasionally rocked by big accidents, such as the deadly Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max accidents happening within five months, but the adage remains true.
In 2018, 556 people died in flying accidents, according to the Aviation Safety Network, while the World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that around 1.35 million people die each year in road traffic accidents.
However, did you know that the 2000s constituted the most dangerous decade for air travel? Or that China is the second deadliest country to drive in?
A survey of the riskiest routes around the world by overseas removals company 1st Move International reveals some deadly data about trains, planes and automobiles that travellers should know before they go.
The number of deaths in aircraft crashes rose sharply last year, but there’s no reason for frequent fliers to panic. The 15 fatal airliner accidents was a higher number than the five-year average, but it was still the third safest year ever for commercial aviation, according to the Aviation Safety Network. Given the estimated worldwide air traffic of just under 38 million flights in 2018, the accident rate is one fatal accident per 2.5 million flights.
The commercial aviation industry was born in the USA, and it is that “first mover” status that puts the country at the top of this chart.
This data, below, is from the Aviation Safety Network’s 100 Worst Aviation Occurrences, with the earliest incident in the data set on 12 May 1968. So it only includes the worst, not all, accidents.
Five deadliest locations for air travel (based on worst accidents since 1968)
1. USA (10 accidents and 4,200 deaths)
2. Spain (seven and 1,367)
3. Japan (three and 946)
4. Indonesia (five and 873)
5. Nigeria (five and 787)
It’s easy to see the impact of specific incidents. For example, many of the now-defunct Pan Am’s total of fatalities dates back to the deadliest accident in aviation history when, on March 27, 1977, two Boeing 747 passenger jets operated by KLM and Pan Am collided on a runway in Tenerife, Spain, killing 583.
Malaysia Airlines’ figures are largely the result of two accidents in 2014. Flight MH370, carrying 239 people, went missing between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing before Flight MH17, carrying 298 passengers and crew, was shot down over Ukraine.
The five most accident-prone airlines
1. American Airlines (five accidents and 2,578 deaths)
2. Aeroflot (four and 718)
3. China Airlines (three and 692)
4. Pan Am (three and 758)
5. Malaysia Airlines (two and 537)
Although China Airlines is high on the list, it has not suffered a fatal accident since 2002, when a Boeing 747-200 crashed into the sea on its way to Hong Kong from Taipei, killing all 225 people on board. The research also points to the 2000s as the most dangerous decade for air travel, with 8,324 fatalities recorded in 33 accidents, although that must be viewed against the backdrop of the massive growth in routes in recent years.
Are trains safer than planes? Absolutely, though a large chunk of the fatalities reported by the WHO in 2018 occurred on railway tracks rather than to actual passengers. In October 2018 a speeding train ploughed through a festival crowd in Amritsar, India, killing 59. In fact, Indian Railways reports that 49,790 people lost their lives between 2015 and 2017 on railway tracks after being hit by trains.
Not that India’s state-owned railway network (which transports 8.1 billion passengers each year) has a great safety record. In 2016, 146 people were killed when a train slid off the tracks in eastern India, and just this year, on February 3, a train derailed in the state of Bihar, killing eight passengers.
Five deadliest national rail systems in 2018
1. India (two accidents, 59 deaths in 2018)
2. Turkey (two and 33)
3. South Africa (three and 20)
4. Taiwan (one and 18)
5. Egypt (one and 15)
As well as being a relatively dangerous destination for train travel, India is the least safe country to travel around by road, according to the WHO Global Status Report for 2018. That will come as no surprise to any visitor to India, where it is common to see everything from livestock and cycle rickshaws to cars and lorries jostling for position on its roads. China ranks second.
And the safest countries to drive in? All are islands with few roads and scarcely any drivers, mostly in the Caribbean and South Pacific, although top of the list, with zero accidents, is the micro-state of San Marino, population 33,400, in north central Italy.
Five deadliest driving destinations in 2018
1. India (150,785 deaths)
2. China (58,022)
3. Brazil (38,651)
4. USA (35,092)
5. Indonesia (31,282)
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.
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