“Don’t worry; the most dangerous part of your flight is the drive to the airport!” is something that most people with a fear of flying have heard. But this isn’t as reassuring as you might think.

Statistics show that more people suffer catastrophic injuries or death from car accidents than plane crashes. However, thousands more people take a drive each day than a flight, so do the numbers take this into account? Is flying really safer than driving?

Well, the answer is, it depends. Below are some insightful statistics to help answer this question.

Flying Versus Driving: The Numbers

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), there was just one major flight crash for every 7.7 million flights in 2021

Because there was more than one catastrophic car collision in 2021, it would seem that flying is much safer. According to the IATA’s numbers, the overall fatality risk for flying in 2021 was 0.23 per million sectors. This means that the average person would take a flight every day for over 10,000 years before being in a fatal airplane accident.

However, the odds of dying in a car accident were 1.34 in one million in 2020.

These numbers show that flying is clearly safer than driving. However, there are a couple of things to note about the IATA figures. First, most of the 7.7 million flights are commercial air carrier trips governed by 14 CFR Part 121. These flights are subject to strict federal regulations. 

Beyond the federal laws governing commercial air carriers, the carriers have stringent standards for pilot training, fleet inspection, and fleet maintenance. Non-commercial flights have regulations and standards that are typically less restrictive than commercial ones. 

Driving vs. Flying: What the Numbers Don’t Show You

What’s been left out of the statistics above is the fact that most deaths from an airplane crash involve planes that fall into specific categories. Fatalities can happen for aircraft that fall into the category of “general aviation,” including aircraft with the capacity to hold 20 or more passengers, commuter, charter, air taxi, and on-demand aircraft. These are not commercial airplanes, which are regulated by Part 121. 

These categories of flights are less regulated than commercial flights and, therefore, resulting crashes may be more likely to involve negligence.

In other words, charter and private flights aren’t as heavily regulated as commercial flights. For this reason, short private flights may not be counted among the number of flights each year for the purposes of tracking accidents and crashes. 

Private aircraft pilots and charter pilots aren’t held to the same federal guidelines or company standards for initial and ongoing pilot training, nor are the aircraft governed by the same strict maintenance and inspection protocols.

This explains that while the majority of flights in the U.S. each year are commercial flights, the majority of the crashes aren’t. The National Transportation Safety Board conducted a safety study and noted that smaller planes — which fall under the general aviation category — are more likely to be involved in crashes or accidents than commercial aircraft. 

Will You Drive, Fly Private, or Take a Commercial Flight?

If you fear flying, opting for a seat on a heavily regulated commercial flight may help you feel more secure. If you’re confident in the abilities of a private pilot, however, remember that the risk of a crash is still less than it is when you’re driving in a car

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