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Air travel[1] is safer than driving on highways in the US, according to data from the US Department of Transportation (DoT). Passenger injuries and fatalities in air travel were significantly lower than in passenger cars and trucks for each year between 2002 and 2020. Flying is also safer than riding subways[2], trains[3], buses[4], and motorcycles.

What is the safest way to travel?

Air travel is the safest form of transit in the US. Injury and death rates in air travel in the US have been near zero each year since 2002, and the number of aviation accidents declined from 2000 to 2021.

Comparing passenger injuries

From 2002 to 2020, there were 614 total serious injuries in US air travel, an average of 32 injuries per year. In that same time, 44 million people were injured in passenger cars and trucks on US highways — that’s approximately 2.3 million per year.

The average annual injury rate for air travel was .01 injuries per 100 million passenger miles traveled, compared with 48 injuries for the same distance traveled in cars and trucks.

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Comparing passenger deaths

From 2002 to 2020, there were 755 deaths during air travel in the US on domestic carriers. Nearly 75% of these deaths occurred in accidents involving on-demand air taxis, smaller aircraft of 30 seats or fewer that operate on an on-demand basis. Passenger car and truck accidents logged 498,016 deaths on US highways over that same time frame, an average of 26,211 fatalities per year.

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Effectively, there have been zero deaths per 100 million passenger air travel miles each year from 2002 to 2020. The average annual fatality rate over that time was .01 deaths per 100 million miles traveled. The death rate for passenger cars and trucks on US highways — though it declined from 0.7 deaths per 100 million passenger miles in 2002 to 0.5 deaths in 2020 — remains significantly higher.

Injuries and deaths for different modes of transportation

The DoT records injuries and fatalities for all modes of passenger transportation, including motorcycles, railroads, subways and light rail systems, and buses. Each of those modes had higher injury and fatality rates than air travel in the US in 2019.

How safe is highway driving?

About 2.3 million people were injured on US highways in 2020. More than half (54%) of those injuries occurred in passenger cars, while 34% were in light trucks, 4% on motorcycles, and 2% were in large trucks. The remainder were pedestrians, bicyclists, or occupants of an unknown vehicle.

There were also 30,250 vehicle-occupant fatalities on highways in 2020: 45% of those happened in passenger cars, 34% in light trucks, and 18% on motorcycles. The remainder were occupants of large trucks. In addition to the 30,250 vehicle passenger deaths on highways, there were also 6,516 pedestrian deaths and 938 bicyclist deaths.

Injury rates for passenger vehicles and trucks have gradually declined, from more than 54 injuries per 100 million passenger miles in 2016 to just under 43 in 2021.

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How safe is public transit?

US public transit systems accounted for 7,209 passenger injuries and 29 fatalities in 2022, the most recent year of available DoT data. Public transit includes buses, heavy rail (including subways), light rail, monorails, ferries, and other modes of transportation operated by public transit operators.

Buses in particular accounted for 82% of passenger injuries from public transit in 2022 and 34% of transit passenger deaths.

How safe is passenger railroad travel?

Passenger rail includes commuter rail and Amtrak but not local subway systems and streetcars. According to preliminary 2022 data, there were 677 passenger injuries and seven passenger fatalities on passenger railroad services, according to the DoT.

Railroad passenger injuries reached a recent high of 1,812 in 2016 and fell into the triple digits during 2020 (401 injuries), 2021 (525), and 2022 (677). Over the same period, the number of railroad miles traveled fell 66%.

How safe is air travel?

In 2019, US air carriers reported 31 serious injuries and 38 fatalities, according to the DoT. In 2020, the latest year on record, there were 17 injuries and 26 deaths; as noted, most of these were in on-demand air taxis. (Between 2019 and 2020, the number of air passenger miles traveled also fell, by nearly 60%.)

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Forty percent of all air travel deaths in this century happened in 2001, the year of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

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Injured Persons by Transportation Mode
National Transportation Statistics
[1]

Air travel includes all scheduled flights by US domestic airlines, scheduled commuter flights, and on-demand air taxi services.

[2]

Subways are included in data for rail transit, which includes heavy rail (like subway systems), light rail, streetcars, and hybrid rail. It does not include commuter rail like Amtrak which is captured separately.

[3]

The term "trains" is used interchangeably with "railroads" throughout. Railroads include commuter rail and Amtrak.

[4]

Bus transit includes commuter bus, motor bus, rapid bus, and trolley bus. It does not include school buses or intercity buses like Greyhound.