Risk of Skydiving Accidents
Skydiving is a remarkably popular sport. The United States Parachuting Association has 34,000 members. It estimates that about 350,000 people complete more than 3 million jumps in a typical year.
The big question is always, "How dangerous is skydiving?" Each year, about 30 people die in parachuting accidents in the United States, or roughly one person per 100,000 jumps. Look at the US Skydiving Incident Reports to get an idea of the types of problems that lead to fatalities. If you make one jump in a year, your chance of dying is 1 in 100,000.
How does the fatality rate in skydiving compare to other common activities? Since most adults in America drive cars, let's compare skydiving to driving. Roughly 40,000 people die each year in traffic accidents in the United States [ref]. That's 1.7 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles. Therefore, if you drive 10,000 miles per year, your chance of dying in a car wreck in any given year is something like 1 in 6,000. In other words, we accept a higher level of risk by getting into our cars every day than people do by occasionally skydiving. You would have to jump 17 times per year for your risk of dying in a skydiving accident to equal your risk of dying in a car accident if you drive 10,000 miles per year.
A logical question to ask here is this: Given these statistics, why do we think of skydiving as dangerous and driving a car as safe?
- The first reason has to do with frequency. At 30 per year, fatal skydiving accidents are infrequent. That tends to make each one newsworthy, so you are likely to hear about them. On the other hand, there are about 110 fatal car accidents every day in the United States. In a city of one million people, 160 people die every year in car accidents. If you heard about every car accident, you would go insane, so you only hear about a few of them. That leaves you with the impression that car accidents are infrequent even though they happen constantly.
- The second reason has to do with familiarity. Most people drive every day and nothing bad happens. So our personal experience leads us to believe that driving is safe. It is only when you look at the aggregated statistics that you realize how dangerous driving really is.
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