Lies, d**n lies and statistics

StatisticsHere’s an interesting bit of statistical information I came across today. The National Safety Council (NSC) in USA has calculated the lifetime average chances of dying under particular circumstances, including aviation accidents. These statistics apply only to the USA and are relevant for the year 2011 – the latest year for which the figures are available.

To start with, you’ll not be surprised to hear that there is a 1 in 1 chance of dying from some cause or other during your lifetime. At least they got that right.

According to the NSC, there’s a 1 in 7 chance you’ll die from heart disease or cancer. But then come a few surprises – a 1 in 112 chance you’ll die in a motor car accident; 1 in 704 you’ll die from a motorcycle accident; and finally, a 1 in 8015 chance you’ll die in an ‘air and space’ accident. To me it looks like there is something well wrong with these figures – surely, everyone knows that riding a motor bike or flying an aeroplane are much more dangerous than driving a car?

And this is where the ‘lies, damn lies and statistics’ bit comes in. Remember, these are average figures across the lifetimes of every individual in the entire population, so because a smaller number of people ride motorcycles than drive cars, there’s a much lower chance for any given person in the population carking it in a bike accident. In fact, if you never ever ride a motor bike, your chances of dying in a bike accident during your lifetime are vanishingly small….

The aviation figures are even more skewed: they include airline travel, which is extremely safe, in fact, probably the safest form of mass transport; and the figures also include space travel!

However, if you need to convince your other half that flying is safe, just quote the NSC figures. You could even try the old myth that driving to the aerodrome is actually more dangerous than flying the plane. After all, the National Safety Council in America says so. Don’t they?

PS – there’s another statistic, particularly relevant to the USA. During his/her lifetime, the average American stands a 1 in 358 chance of dying through someone shooting them.