Comparative Risks

“Everything is sweetened by risk…To those who seek true and meaningful adventure, a well-tuned sense of fear that’s neither blunted nor inflated is an indispensable guide.” —  Jim Thorton, National Geographic Adventure, June/July 2002

Friends often tell me that my adventures show that I lead a dangerous, reckless life. Indeed, in Latin, the word “Nozzi” can mean “dangerous.” However, a look at risk analysis comparing various activities, shows that a number of things I do may be perceived as hazardous, but statistics demonstrate that perceptions can often deceive. That is, I believe what I do is with a sense of fear that is “neither blunted nor inflated.” For example…

 Days off your life from various activities:

Eating meat regularly = 2,555 days

Smoking a pack of cigarettes daily (men) = 2,250 days

Smoking a pack a day (women) = 800 days

Being 30 percent overweight = 1,300 days

Driving a motor vehicle = 207 days

Alcohol = 130 days

Accidents in the home = 95 days

Being murdered = 90 days

Breathing polluted air = 77 days

Walking down the street = 37 days

Misusing legal drugs = 90 days

Using illegal drugs = 18 days

Coffee = 6 days

Riding a bicycle = 5 days (one study has found that people who regularly commute by bicycle have a 40-percent reduction in mortaility compared to people who do not bicycle) (Sprawl Kills, by Joel Hirschhorn, 2005)

Sources: National Safety Council, National Center for Health Statistics, FBI, Statistical Abstract of the U.S., “Catalog of Risks by B. Cohen and I.S. Lee, “Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention” by D. Schottenfeld and J.F. Fraumeni Jr.

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Fatalities per million hours

Skydiving = 128.71

General aviation = 15.58

On-road motorcycling = 8.80

Scuba diving = 1.98

Living (all causes of death) = 1.53

Swimming = 1.07

Snowmobiling = 0.88

Passenger cars = 0.47

Water skiing = 0.28

Bicycling = 0.26

Flying (domestic airlines) = 0.15

Hunting = 0.08

Cosmic radiation from transcontinental flights = 0.035

Home living (active) = 0.027

Traveling in a school bus = 0.022

Compiled by Failure Analysis Associates, Inc. (Design News, 10/4/93)

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Annual US fatalities

Motor vehicle deaths = 43,200

Falls = 14,900

Poisoning = 8,600

Drowning = 4,000

Fires, Burns = 3,700

Suffocation by ingested object = 3,300

Firearms = 1,500

Source: National Safety Council, 1997

Worldwide annual fatalities

Getting hit on the head with a coconut = 150

Shark attack = 10

Source: George Burgess, director of International Shark Attack File, 9/02 Rodale’s Scuba Diving Magazine

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Annual US fatalities

Boating = 1,063

Scuba diving = 105 (1-2 cases of “Decompression Illness” [The Bends] per 10,000 dives) (7/02 Scuba Magazine)

Snowmobiling = 60

Water skiing = 47

Snow skiing = 41

Skydiving = 31

Snorkeling = 20

Hang gliding = 13

Football = 6

Basketball = 4

Boxing = 2

Source: Skydiving Magazine, 4/96

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 Annual Risk

You will have an auto accident = 1 in 12

You will die in an auto accident = 1 in 5,000

You will die = 1 in 115

You will have a fatal accident as a skydiver = 1 in 1,000

You will die while riding your bike = 1 in 130,000

You will die in an airplane crash = 1 in 250,000

Source: Laudan, Larry. (1994). The Book of Risks.

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Fatalities in the United States

Activity

Million
participants

Fatalities/

Fatalities/
million
participants

Smoking

145

345,000

3,000

Mountaineering

0.06

34

567

Hang Gliding

0.03

13

433

Parachuting

0.11

30

269

Hunting

1.69

280

166

Scuba Diving

1.6

70

43.8

All Accidents

2,360

92,911

39.3

ATVs

6.7

240

35.8

Boating

38.2

1,066

27.9

Swimming

102

2,300

22.5

Driving

2,400

47,900

19.9

Bicycling

85

1400

16.5

Boxing

0.5

4

8

Football

12

12

1

Basketball

21.2

7

0.3

Baseball

13.9

2

0.14

Soccer

8.2

1

0.012

Data for the above table is derived primarily from NATIONAL SAFETY COUNCIL, supra note 27, at 83. That for smoking and mountaineering are from Morrall, A Review of the Record, 10 REGULATION 25-27 (1986). Data for bicycling and all terrain vehicles are derived from other sources. See supra notes 24 and 35; infra notes 79 and 109

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Some of these lists show distortions when you try to compare activities. For example, the two “annual U.S. fatalities” lists do not control for how frequently the activity is done in the US. The “million hours” list is misleading because the average person does not, say, skydive as often as drive a car, even if they skydive regularly. Yes, you are more likely to die if you skydive every day as opposed to drive a car every day, but who skydives every day?

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