Getting the Scale and Seriousness of US Road Crashes in Perspective

It is effectively inevitable that road safety advocates will use air crash data to try to get people to understand the staggering seriousness of road crashes when compared to commercial plane crashes, but even then the true scale is rarely stated.

Wikimedia Commons: A Boeing 737 MAX 8 ‘G-TUMA’ TUI Airways (46886857481). Copyright-free photograph by Alan Wilson, from Stilton, Peterborough, Cambs., UK

The latest plane crash to grab the headlines is the tragic loss of a Boeing 737 MAX 8 that had just taken off from Addis Ababa, in the beautiful country of Ethiopia.

All of the 157 people on board were killed.

This post is not in any way here to belittle the tragedy of plane crashes, but apart from being numerically very rare incidents, the deaths from these attention-grabbing events pale into insignificance when compared to road fatalities — not only in the USA but worldwide.

8,350 plane crashes a year!

The 157 people killed on the Ethiopian Airlines flight is about the same number of deaths as just 1.5 days’ worth of road fatalities in the USA alone. And on a global scale, the plane crash created approximately the same number of lost souls as the roads of the world kill every one hour two minutes and fifty seconds — in other words, there are approximately 3,600 road deaths worldwide every single day of the year. Put another way, global road deaths are the equivalent of 23 air crashes on the scale of the Ethiopia tragedy every single day.

That would be 8,350 plane crashes a year.

What is it about this outrageously lethal situation on roads that the human psyche seemingly refuses or chooses not to ‘get’?

And now, President Trump has apparently signed an order, grounding all 737 MAX 8 flights because of two crashes involving this type of plane in a five-month period.

The scene of a fatal road crash we came across during an ADoNA advanced driving course in the USA. (Copyright image, 2012.)

For the USA, two such air crashes every three days would match the number of road deaths in any given period of time. Globally, it would need a similar-scale air crash every two hours and six minutes to create the same number of deaths as do the roads of the world.

However, the two 737 MAX 8 crashes got swift and firm White House intervention while the 37,000 [NHTSA figure] or 40,000 [NSC figure] deaths each year on the roads of the US get what? The answer is that apart from the crash-reducing effects of the 2008-2010 recession, not much difference in the number of deaths, year on year on year!

And yet the reason given by the President of the USA for banning the plane from flying was that it was “to protect people’s lives.”

All this means is that the inaccurate priorities start at the very top.

And herein lies one key reason why the USA is one of the very worst-performing developed nations in the world for road safety, with a per capita death-rate more than four-times worse than those in the leading nations. Indeed, if the USA could simply match the achievements of the leading nations, more than 27,000 American deaths and potentially hundreds of thousands of serious injuries would be prevented every single year.

Another extremely regrettable reason for America’s poor performance in this field is that even the basic US road safety standards do not meet the minimum requirements of the World Health Organisation in relation to poor countries!

If anyone believes this article to be unpatriotic or, worse, anti-American, please think again. This truly great nation certainly could do better and definitely should do better, for the sake of the American people.


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Author: EddieWren

Eddie Wren is the CEO and Chief Instructor at Advanced Drivers of North America. His driver safety background is given at:

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