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The risks of travel

Transport is a classic case of the public perception of risk being at variance with the actual numbers. Indeed, in these days of dominance by the scare-loving media and a Government steered by focus groups, the public perception is a highly volatile matter. The statistics too, of course, also range up and down, particularly in mass transport, where one incident can cause a large number of fatalities.

Another feature of transport risk is that the impact of the numbers is very dependent on how you represent them. Basically, there are three possible ways of quoting transport risk; in terms of distance travelled, number of journeys or time of travel. Interested parties tend to choose the form of presentation that suits their own purposes.

The air transport industry, for example, will almost always choose a per km basis, which is optimum for them, as most fatalities occur on landing and take-off, while the intervening distances are large. Land based transport organisations, in contrast, will tend to select fatalities per number of journeys or hours of travel, since the risks are uniformly spread. Thus both are able to demonstrate that theirs is the safest form of transport. The actual statistics are given below (taken from an article by Roger Ford in Modern Railways, Oct 2000 and based on a DETR survey). They record the number of fatalities per billion km, journeys or hours of travel. 




Air 0.05

Bus 4.3

Bus 11.1

Bus 0.4

Rail 20

Rail 30

Rail 0.6

Van 20

Air 30.8

Van 1.2

Car 40

Water 50

Water 2.6

Foot 40

Van 60

Car 3.1

Water 90

Car 130

Pedal cycle 44.6

Air 117

Foot 220

Foot 54.2

Pedal cycle 170

Pedal cycle 550

Motorcycle 108.9

Motorcycle 1,640

Motorcycle 4,840

 Clearly, the one thing that stands out like a sore thumb is that, whichever way you look at it, motorcycles are disastrously the most dangerous form of transport. Indeed, if you take into account the relative youth of their victims, by recording loss of quality life expectancy rather than just deaths, they dwarf the usual suspects of political correctness, such as tobacco and alcohol, which mainly afflict the elderly. Bus and rail are the safest form of transport by any measure, despite the press furore that greets any particular incident. The constant attrition by which more personal forms of transport dispose of the populace does not produce the sort of numbers that excite the media, but is far more significant in the long run.



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