The Big Transportation Disaster You’re Not Hearing About

CNN.com’s front page is abuzz with the latest gruesome details and tearful stories of the “death train” and the “haunting” plane crash. But the biggest transportation disaster story is the one they’re not telling.

The Fourth of July is the deadliest holiday of the year when it comes to motor vehicle deaths. How deadly? I couldn’t find anybody with a nationwide count, but a quick Google search brought up stories from Iowa and Georgia, which announce death tolls of 6 and 11, respectively. Iowa has slightly less than 1% of the total US population, so their death count extrapolates to over 600 nationwide. Georgia is about 1.3%, so their 11 becomes over 800 nationwide.

But how many of these deaths are attributable to the holiday, rather than our ordinary socially accepted mortality rate? Motor vehicle deaths total about 33,000 annually, so if we divide by 365, multiply by 4, and round up a bit (since Thursday–Sunday typically contains a disproportionately large number of fatalities), we arrive at a figure of about 400 deaths on an average 4-day weekend. So by our Iowa and Georgia numbers, the Fourth of July holiday added an additional 200–400 deaths on the roads nationwide.

Of course, these numbers have a pretty big margin of error, and selection bias may be in play as well (articles from Iowa and Georgia may have been easy to find because they had an unusually large number of deaths). But these back-of-the-envelope calculations show that it’s very reasonable to believe that the nationwide automobile disaster that happened this weekend was an order of magnitude more deadly than the “death train,” and two orders of magnitude more deadly than the 777 crash. Sadly, it is explosions, not statistics, that sell, so it’s unlikely that CNN is going to be reporting any of this. But think about this statistic next time you get into a car: You’re more likely to die driving a half mile down the road than you are flying across the ocean in a Boeing 777. We must not let sensational media dictate how we choose to live. It has led us, and will continue to lead us, down the wrong path.

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About Evan Jenkins

I am an algorithmic trader and occasional writer living in Hyde Park, Chicago. I recently received my PhD in mathematics from the University of Chicago.
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One Response to The Big Transportation Disaster You’re Not Hearing About

  1. Eric Astor says:

    Elaborating slightly: so why do we let the TSA make the *safer* alternative require an invasive search? Each person they discourage, each person who ends up driving rather than flying to avoid a loss of privacy, a potentially traumatic “enhanced patdown”, increases the number of deaths in this country. Does the TSA save lives, or cost them?

    And why is it that so many people find them acceptable?

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