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Fear of Flying? Get Real!

It’s probably entirely rational to be afraid of flying. Hurtling through the air at 500 miles-per-hour in a metal tube with paper-thin walls, piloted by a total stranger who might be distracted by… well, who knows what.

What could go wrong, right?

On the other hand, we’ve all heard the calming injunction: Flying is safer than traveling in a car. In fact, according to a new report from the National Safety Council, flying is safer than a host of other activities.

Deborah Hersman, president of the Council, suggests that there’s a serious disconnect between our fears of death and the actual causes of fatalities. “Americans worry about the wrong things—for example, 865 times more people are killed in motor vehicle crashes than in commercial plane crashes.”

What else should we worry about? Consider the lifetime odds of dying from the following causes:

  • Odds of dying in a car crash: 1 in 112
  • Odds of dying from an overdose of opioid prescription painkillers: 1 in 234
  • Odds of dying in a cataclysmic storm: 1 in 6,780
  • Odds of dying in a plane crash: 1 in 97,000
  • Odds of dying from a lightning strike: 1 in 164,968
  • Odds of dying in an earthquake: 1 in 179,965

There is one notable difference between many of the more likely causes of death and dying in a plane crash, which might at least partially explain why fear of flying looms so large in the popular imagination. In car crashes and overdoses and storms, the individual has some control over the situation. You can drive slower, or forego prescription painkillers, or flee the storm. But when your plane falls into a precipitous dive, all you can do is put your head down and hope.

Reader Reality Check

Are you afraid of flying?

This article originally appeared on

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