Skydiving is a remarkably popular sport. The United States Parachuting Association has nearly 35,000 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?" In 2012, 19 people died 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 34,000 people died in 2012 in traffic accidents in the United States ref. 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. The fatality rate for skydiving is 0.006 per 1,000 jumps, according to the U.S. Parachute Association.
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 19 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 93 fatal car accidents every day in the United States. 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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