The Car is a Weapon of Mass Destruction

Cars can be deadly: every year, more people are killed by cars than armed conflicts and terrorist acts combined. Carnage, which used to be confined to the rich world, is now becoming globalised. Road crashes now kill 1.2 million people a year. That's not a misprint: 3,000 deaths every day. Plus 50 million injuries. Every year. 

"It won't happen to me"

In his book Reckoning with Risk, Gerd Gigerenzer computes the risks of being killed in a car crash over a lifetime. His analysis follows, "In an average year, 40,000 to 45,000 people die on the roads in the United States. Given that the country has about 280 million inhabitants, this means that about 1 in 7,000 of them is killed on the road each year. Assuming that this figure remains fairly stable over time, we can also figure out the chance of dying on the road during one's life. Given a life span of 75 years, the result is roughly 1 in 90. That is, 1 out of every 90 Americans will lose his or her life in a motor vehicle accident by the age of 75. Most of them die in passenger car accidents." Gigerenzer goes on to show that over that same life span of 75 years, in Portugal and Greece about 1 out of every 50 people are killed in car crashes; in Germany the comparable figure is 1 in 130 people killed in car crashes. In Britain, your chance of being killed in a car crash is 1 in 220 over your lifespan of seventy five years.

These figures don't take into account the possibility that driving behaviour or safety technology could change over time, but Professor G goes on to note, "the terrorist attack on September 11 2001 cost the lives of some 3,000 people. The subsequent decision of millions to drive rather than fly may have cost the lives of many more."

Source: Gerd Gigerenzer, Reckoning with Risk: Learning to live with uncertainty (London, Penguin, 2003)

For more information on road deaths and injuries: www.who.int/features/2004/road_safety/en/