What's the Safest Mode of Travel?

Public transportation and flying rank the safest in the U.S.

Which form of transportation offers the most inherent risk to travelers?
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Throughout the evolution of our modern travel industry, many have long debated over what is the safest mode of travel. While highly-publicized aviation accidents have caused some to swear off taking to the skies, others may not book a cruise vacation due to the fear of water. What is truly the safest mode of travel? 

Every year, the U.S. Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Statistics keeps track of all incidents involving all major modes of transportation: air, automobile, railroad, boat, and public transit. The statistics give an overview of where the most injuries and fatalities take place but fall short of naming a cause to each incident - meaning the numbers, like most statistics, can be interpreted many different ways. For comparison purposes, we chose to measure the safest modes of travel as the ones with the least fatalities in a year.

Which is the safest mode of travel? Here is the breakdown of all travel-related fatalities in 2014 from the Department of Transportation. 

Air Transportation: 439 Fatalities in the United States

For decades, flying was considered one of the most efficient modes of travel -- but came with plenty of risks. In 1985, there were over 1,500 aviation fatalities in the United States, with around one-third of those coming from airline accidents.

Since then, technology has significantly improved the airline safety record, ultimately reducing the number of accidents around the world. In 2014, there were only 439 aviation-related travel fatalities. None of those incidents were attributed to airline incidents - instead, the incidents were related to on-demand air taxis and general aviation, such as privately operated airplanes.

Scaled out to the entire globe, Aviation Safety Network reports there were 761 commercial aviation deaths in 2014, due in part to the tragedies of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and Air Algerie Flight 5017. When private aircraft incidents are included in that number, there were over 1,000 aviation-related casualties around the world. In comparison, there were 2,331 commercial aviation casualties in 1985 - a reduction in fatalities by over 60 percent over the last 20 years. From the data alone, travelers can conclude that air transportation is one of the safest modes of travel.

Automobile Transportation: 32,675 Fatalities in the United States

Undoubtedly the most popular form of transportation in the United States, automobile transportation makes up the majority of our everyday travel. According to the Federal Highway Administration, there are approximately 685 drivers for every 1,000 residents in the United States, making automobiles the most available mode of transportation. Despite this, American cities did not make the list of the world's worst places to drive

Because of the sheer number of drivers on the road, there are more opportunities for accidents and fatalities. In 2014, the Department of Transportation reported 32,675 automobile fatalities, making highway travel the deadliest form of travel in America. 

Although there are more opportunities for danger on both American and international roads, fatal automobile accidents are on the decline. In 2014, passenger automobile accidents only accounted for just over one-third of highway fatalities - an all-time low since 1975. Additionally, traveling by bus proved to be one of the safest means of travel, as only 44 people were killed in bus accidents in 2014. As far as truck incidents go: a combined total of 9,753 people were killed in all incidents. 

Railroad Transportation: 769 Fatalities in the United States

Once considered America's primary mode of long-distance travel, railroads are still alive and well in many communities. On both coasts, trains make up one of the most efficient means of travel, but also come with some inherent risk. 

In total, there were 769 railroad-related fatalities in the United States in 2014. However, only five of those were a result of train accidents. The majority of those incidents came from those trespassing on railroad tracks: 471 people were killed in trespassing incidents. Another 264 were killed in accidents involving railroad crossings, while the remainder were killed in "other" events that did not include train accidents or crossing incidents. For those who have access to railroads, traveling by train remains one of the safest modes of travel.

Public Transportation: 236 Fatalities in the United States

For traversing through major cities, many trust the public transportation systems to take them from point to point. With reliable time tables and low costs, public transit is an efficient way to navigate through America's major cities. 

Public transportation is also one of the overall safest means of travel as well. In 2014, there were a total of 236 fatalities related to public transportation. However, only 58 of those incidents involved passengers. Four transportation workers were killed in public transportation incidents, while the remaining 174 fatalities were classified as "other" which may include (but is not limited to) trespassers and others in the way of public transportation lines. 

Although public transit methods may be a statistically safe mode of travel, there are also inherent risks that come with it as well. Passengers aboard subways and buses are often considered prime targets for mugging and pickpocketing by criminals. 

Boat Transportation: 674 Fatalities in the United States

Finally, boat transportation, including ferries, are not immune to their share of fatal accidents. In 2014, the Department of Transportation reported 674 fatal incidents aboard all vessels and watercraft. 

Once again, passenger transports had the least amount of incidents, with only 14 fatalities for the year. Recreational boating made up the majority of those fatalities: 610 people were killed in boating accidents. Other commercial vessels, including fishing boats, had 32 accidents, while freight vessels reported 18 fatalities in American waters.

Although there are inherent dangers that come with traveling, educated travelers can mitigate those risks through knowledge and safeguards. By understanding how fatalities happen in common transportation modes, every traveler can make better decisions about not only when to travel, but which are truly the safest modes of travel.