What is the Safest Form 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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Since the birth of the modern travel industry, people have long debated which is the safest form of travel available. While highly-publicized aviation accidents have caused some to swear off taking to the skies, others may not take to the ocean due to the fear of water. Which is the most dangerous mode of transportation? 

Every year, the U.S. Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Statistics keeps track of all incidents involving all five of America's 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 the sake of debate, we will measure the safest form of travel as the ones with the least fatalities in a year.

Which mode of travel is the safest? 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, the aviation industry and technology have significantly improved their 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, including 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 in that year. 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 has become safer in the United States. 

Automobile transportation: 32,675 fatalities in the United States

Undoubtedly the most popular form of transportation in the United States, automobile transportation makes up for 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 form of american travel. 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 to take place. In 2014, the Department of Transportation reported 32,675 automobile fatalities in the United States, 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 truck-related incidents. 

Railroad transportation: 769 fatalities in the United States

Once considered America's primary mode of transportation, railroads are still alive and well in many parts of the United States. On both coasts, trains make up one of the most efficient means of travel, but also come with some danger. 

In total, there were 769 railroad-related fatalities in the United States. 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 transportation. 

Public transportation: 236 fatalities in the United States

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

Public transportation is also one of the overall safest means of transportation as well. In 2014, there were a total of 236 fatalities related to public transportation in the United States. 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 statistically safer, there are also inherent risks that come with this method of transportation 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, only reporting 14 fatalities for the year. Recreational boating made up the majority of those fatalities, with 610 people killed in boating accidents. Other commercial vessels, including fishing boats, had 32 accidents, while freight vessels reported 18 fatalities in the United States. 

Although there are inherent dangers that come with traveling, educated travelers can mitigate those risks through knowledge and information. By understanding how fatalities happen in common transportation modes, every traveler can make better decisions about not only when to travel, but which mode to take on their next journey.