With both air and car travel being so ubiquitous nowadays, you might be wondering if planes or cars are the safer mode of transportation.

Whatever way you look at it, planes are significantly safer than cars, so driving is undoubtedly much more dangerous than flying.

But it’s important to take a closer look at the statistics to get the full picture, including safety statistics for smaller vs. larger planes and commercial vs non-commercial aviation, as well as if you are more likely to survive a plane crash or car crash.

Chances of Dying in a Plane Crash vs. a Car Crash

According to the NSC (National Safety Council), the odds of dying in a car crash as a driver are 1 in 114, and 1 in 654 as a passenger.

The odds of dying in a plane crash are 1 in 9,821, though this accounts for both general aviation, that includes small planes, and commercial aviation.

Looking at these statistics, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that air travel is much safer than car travel.

However, the data doesn’t account for any differences between general aviation and commercial aviation.

For this, we need to refer to other statistics.

Related: What Are the Chances of a Plane Crashing? (Aircraft, Airline, Country, Year)

Small Planes vs. Commercial Planes Crash Statistics

2017 was the safest year on record for air travel, as there wasn’t a single fatality on a passenger jet.

However, if we take a look at the statistics for general aviation, which is what smaller aircraft qualify under, the numbers paint a different picture.

The NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) recorded 1,316 accidents and 346 deaths.

To put this another way, according to the FAA, in 2017 general aviation aircraft logged a total of 21.7 million flight hours, with a fatal accident rate of 0.931 per 100,000 hours.

US airlines racked up 19 million hours without a single fatality.

Okay, you might be thinking, 2017 was just an anomaly.

Well, according to the International Air Transport Association, there was just one major aviation crash for every 7.7 million flights in 2021.

To put it another way, you would need to take a flight every day for 10,078 years to be involved in an accident with at least one death.

So, in fact, commercial aviation, which refers to the planes we all take for vacation and business purposes, is significantly safer than driving – and it’s not close in any way.

Related: How Often Do Planes Crash? (U.S., Worldwide, Yearly)

You’re More Likely to Survive a Car Crash

The US National Transportation Safety Board reviewed aviation accidents from 1983-1999 and found that more than 95% of passengers survived accidents, including 55% in the most serious incidents.

In the USA, in 2020, there were 35,766 fatal accidents, which resulted in 38,824 deaths, or 106 car accident deaths per day.

This means that one out of every 147 accidents is fatal, which is just 0.7%.

So, the data tells us that if you are involved in a plane crash, while your odds of survival are quite high, your odds of surviving a car crash are significantly better.

You Can Increase Your Chances of Surviving a Plane Crash

Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do that will substantially increase your odds of surviving a plane crash.

The following may marginally help, though:

How to Increase Your Chances of Surviving a Car Crash

Even though just one out of every 147 accidents is fatal, which is just 0.7%, there are steps you can take to even further improve your chances of surviving a car crash.

  • Always wear your seat belt
  • Do your research and buy the safest car you can afford
  • Store anything that could turn into a projectile
  • Regularly maintain your car
  • Sit as far back from the steering wheel as possible
  • Reduce your speed to reduce the impact when a crash is inevitable

3 Reasons Why Planes Are Safer Than Cars

  • Distribution of Responsibility

Every flight you take consists of multiple people sharing in the responsibility to ensure a safe flight.

From the pilots to cabin crew, aircraft dispatchers, and air traffic controllers, every person is fully aware of their very specific responsibilities to ensure that no problems will occur – and if a problem does occur, it can be rectified quickly.

  • Extensive Training and Certifications

There’s no doubt that getting a driver’s license is much easier than getting a pilot’s license.

Airline pilots have to go through extensive training and log at least 1,500 flight hours to qualify for an airline transport pilot license.

Certain requirements must also be met to qualify for a medical certificate in order to fly.

  • Advanced Safety Features and Technology

A modern airliner contains so many advanced safety features and technology to account for every possible danger.

This includes communications, navigation, monitoring, fuel, aircraft-flight control, weather, collision-avoidance, weather, and aircraft management systems.

Cars also contain important safety features and technology, but they are not as advanced as the ones found in planes, and there is no legislation that requires all cars to feature these systems either.

Ella Dunham, a Freelance Travel Journalist and Marketing Manager, boasts an impressive career spanning eight years in the travel and tourism sectors.

Honored as one of "30 Under 30" by TTG Media (the world’s very first weekly travel trade newspaper), a "Tour Operator Travel Guru" and "Legend Award" winner, Ella is also a Fellow of the Institute of Travel, a Member of the Association of Women Travel Executives, has completed over 250 travel modules, and hosts travel-focused segments on national radio shows where she provides insights on travel regulations and destinations.

Ella has visited over 40 countries (with 10 more planned this year).