Thursday, January 07, 2010

Statistically Speaking...

"Well I hope this experience hasn't put you off flying. Statistically speaking, it's still the safest way to travel."--Superman

I get tired of hyperbole. When President Obama started sternly lecturing our intelligence agencies for a "systemic failure" in Detroit on Christmas day, I just rolled my eyes. Another politician takes advantage of bad math to make political hay.

This may not be politically correct, but I thought that the Columbine incident was pretty much overhyped, too. This is not to say that the loss of life was not tragic; of course it was. What I'm saying is that we pay far too much attention to tragedies where the loss of life is high because it all happens at the same time. I worked in a school back in the 90s where at least as many students died from gunfire on the way to, from, and even at school, but nothing was ever done or said about it. No national news media covered the violence. No crisis plan was initiated nationwide to prevent the deaths. It wasn't until a lot of people died all at the same time in a school did the idea of bullying or student violence even make the headlines.

Why are plane crashes covered in the news? Because the loss of life all happens at the same time. Superman was right. Statistically speaking, it's still the safest way to travel. It's just that you don't see 300 lives lost all at the same time on highways that makes those kind of accidents not as newsworthy. It's far more dangerous to drive on the highways than to fly, so where is the outrage? Where is the president, sternly lecturing about impaired driving? There are 13,000-14,000 alcohol-related driving deaths per year in the U.S. alone. Someone would have to blow up a whole lot of planes to compare to that, and once again, no I am not saying that those types of deaths are any less tragic. I'm saying that the tragedy of terrorism in the air is a relatively small problem.

I've got a great idea. Why don't we stop spending billions while nickeling and diming air traffic threats and start taking equally bold steps to save as many lives as possible. That would be worth a headline or two.

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