How Safe is Travel…or Being Home?

travel dangerousWhich are you more likely to die from: cancer, an auto accident, a residential fire, bad medical care, an airplane crash, or a highjacking?

Actually, those likelihoods are in order: your chances of dying from cancer are one in 499. Your chances of dying from a terrorist hijacking are one in 16,817,784—which is the same as the odds that two dozen coin tosses in a row will come up heads.

Three planes have crashed in the past few weeks, in Greece, Venezuela, and Peru. The first two killed everyone, the last one had some survivors. Inevitably, this brings about great fear that flying isn’t safe, even though millions of passengers touch down each week without even a bump. It also contributes to a general unease about travel, especially if some nutjobs just blew up a hotel or subway car somewhere in the world.

What’s usually lacking is a sense of perspective. Yes, terrorist acts are scary—that’s their purpose. And plane crashes are scary because they’re all over the news and they’re so sudden. But consider these facts at the same time:

* According to New York Times estimates, 103,000 people per year die in the US each year from infections picked up in the hospital.

* Since 2000, about 1,600 people have been killed in railroad crossing accidents in the U.S., more than twice the number killed in commercial plane crashes.

* U.S. Highway deaths fell last year, to only 42,636. This is lower than it was in 1966, when records started, but it’s still far more than the combined American citizen deaths from terrorism, plane crashes, kidnappings, boat sinkings, buses going off a cliff, wars, drug lord crossfire, or anything else a traveler could possibly run into abroad.

Many tourists got stuck in Cancun and Playa del Carmen Mexico last month when Hurricane Emily whipped through and had to stay in shelters. It was unpleasant, yes, but not more dangerous than taking a drive at home. The one foreigner who died was a German expat who lived there. He touched a high-tension wire while trimming limbs and was electrocuted.

Think of it this way: your odds of dying in a plane crash are one in 659,779. That’s about the same odds as being dealt a royal flush in 5-card stud poker. Bring a deck of cards on your next flight and keep dealing the whole time. If you ever get a royal flush, maybe then it’s time to worry. Otherwise, you’re probably better off than you are when commuting to work or getting minor surgery in your own home town.

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