November 4, 2004

What if?

by Chris Feeney

What if we ever get a chance to go on another family vacation? It looks like we'll be driving thanks to all of the recent aviation accidents. Many of my family members were already afraid to fly - now there's likely no chance to ever get them into a plane.

I tried to explain that the reason airplane accidents get so much news coverage is because they are so rare. I noted that a person has a greater chance of slipping in the shower than crashing in an airliner, but they won't budge.

I found it truly ironic when the bystander told me he would never step foot on an airliner. The utterance came between puffs on his cigarette as he crammed another Krispy Kreme donut in his mouth while lazily snoozing on his couch waiting for heart disease, cancer or some other life-style related disease to set in and take his life prematurely. (Heart attacks are blamed for 29 percent of all deaths with cancer causing nearly 23 percent of all fatalities.).

According to the National Safety Council, 1 out of every 23 people will die from an injury. Of those accidental deaths only 1 in 4,023 people will die in a plane crash. That compares to a 1 in 247 chance of being involved in a fatal car crash.

In 2003 according to the National Travel Safety Board there were a total of 1,732 general aviation accidents, of which 351 involved fatalities with a total of 626 deaths. That included 25,800,000 flight hours. Travel on commercial U.S. air carriers was much safer than that, with only two fatal crashes in 2003. There were 22 deaths in those two accidents. Not bad considering airliners flew more than 7 billion miles.

I did a little research and I think I have figured out my plan to convince these folks we should fly to Disney World next summer instead of driving for three days with a pack of screaming kids.

I'll work on the farmers first. I'll make my sales pitch while we are unloading the grain wagon, at which time I'll point out that farm machinery is the 10th leading cause of accidental deaths, accounting for roughly 350 fatalities a year.

If any family members are planning medical procedures or surgery I'll be sure to let them know that an average of 500 people a year die from complications of treatment.

I'll pledge to check the batteries in their carbon monoxide detectors as roughly 700 people a year die of gas poisoning.

The NRA may revoke my membership, but yes there are roughly 1,500 firearm related deaths each year. So, I'll make sure to try to do some airplane coaxing during deer season.

Thanksgiving dinner will be another top time to argue my cause. My mother-in-law's food is so good, sometimes we get carried away and eat a little too fast. I've never witnessed a family member performing the Heimlich maneuver, but it can be invaluable knowledge as more than 3,300 people die each year from suffocation - the bulk being from choking on food.

I'll also point out statistics around the fireplace, the mouse poison in the garage, while on the ladder cleaning the gutters or during a trip to the hot tub. Fires, drowning, poisoning, and falls rank fifth, fourth, third and second overall in the number of annual accidental deaths.

But I'll save the best for last. If the thought of driving for 20-plus hours with a van- load of screaming kids doesn't scare you enough, maybe this will. The number one cause of accidental deaths each year is motor vehicle accidents. More than 43,000 people die in traffic crashes each year.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is if you are worried about your plane crashing, you probably should no longer drive a car, shower, climb stairs, breathe or eat.

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