I'll probably get docked a week's pay for saying this, but Popular Science Mechanics is getting better all the time. When was the last time you can remember a science magazine doing enterprise journalism? Anyway here's the result:
A look at real-world crash stats suggests that the farther back you sit, the better your odds of survival. Passengers near the tail of a plane are about 40 percent more likely to survive a crash than those in the first few rows up front.
This wasn't easy to figure out, mind you--according to the folks who did, no one's ever bothered to run the numbers before. Maybe because it would affect the relative value of various seats in the plane? (Or because the industry doesn't like to do anything that focuses attention on fatalities?) But I digress.
That's the conclusion of an exclusive Popular Mechanics study that examined every commercial jet crash in the United States, since 1971, that had both fatalities and survivors. The raw data from these 20 accidents has been languishing for decades in National Transportation Safety Board files, waiting to be analyzed by anyone curious enough to look and willing to do the statistical drudgework.
And drudgework it was. For several weeks, we poured over reports filed by NTSB crash investigators, as well as seating charts that showed where each passenger sat and whether they lived or died. We then calculated the average fore-and-aft seating position of both survivors and fatalities for each crash.
It's worth noting that, mile for mile, air travel is quite safe--if you have a choice between flying between two points and driving, you should fly every time - you're about 11 times as likely to die in a car as in a plane per mile traveled.
However, if you're taking a vacation and your choice is between driving for a set amount of time or flying for the same amount of time (to a further destination), you might, paradoxically, be better off skipping the vacation in Cancun in favor of that trip to Six Flags--because per hour traveled, cars are actually safer. Go figure.
Credit: Railwatch.org (pdf)
The views expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.