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The Price of Not Flying
I heard something really striking near the end of today's show about water toxins. George Gray, a toxicologist who studies risk at George Washington University, said that he and a colleague wrote a book called Risk: A Practical Guide For Deciding What's Really Safe and What's Really Dangerous in the World Around You. So Emily asked if we sometimes make ourselves less safe by worrying about the wrong things. He said yes:
One of the places we identified where people’s risk perceptions put them at greater risk is after 9/11. After 9/11 everyone was frightened of the whole idea of air travel... And they drove instead. And there have been several analyses that showed as many — as perhaps as many as thousands of people may have died additionally because their fears drove them to drive rather than take a plane.
You can read one of the studies he was referring to here. This is the abstract:
We find that driving fatalities increased significantly following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, an event which prompted many travelers to substitute less-safe surface transportation for safer air transportation. After controlling for time trends, weather, road conditions, and other factors, we attribute an increase of 242 driving fatalities per month to additional road travel undertaken in response to 9/11. In total, our results suggest that about 1,200 driving deaths are attributable to the effect of 9/11. We also provide evidence that is consistent with the 9/11 effect on driving fatalities weakening over time as drivers return to flying. Our results show that the public response to terrorist threats can create unintended consequences that rival the attacks themselves in severity.
The study was published in 2005, and has this intriguing line: "Survey data also support the claim that increased security efforts have made flying less convenient; 63 percent of travelers said that airport security 'is becoming more of a hassle' (USA Today, 2003)." It makes you wonder what effect full body scans and enhanced pat-downs might have on rates of air travel... and on traffic fatalities.
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