Which is Safer - Skydiving or Driving?

Which is Safer - Skydiving or Driving?

Published: November 27, 2017

Picture this: You're about to hop in the car with a friend to go out for dinner.

Before they slide into the passenger seat, they lean towards you over the car and say, "Okay. Before I get into this car, I need you to promise me that this car ride will be one hundred percent safe, and that there will be absolutely no chance of getting into so much as a fender-bender. Otherwise, I'm not doin' it."

You'd probably stare at them aghast, right? You know that--even if you've gone to the trouble of taking every single precaution, from your own licensing to the maintenance of the vehicle to the selection of the safest route to the speed and level of caution with which you conduct the vehicle--you can give no 100% guarantee in good faith. Along the same lines, you can't go around telling people that your car is the "safest," because even if you have a perfect track record, that wouldn't be based on any real metrics.

Skydiving and driving have a lot in common along the lines of risk calculation and assessment. For the same reasons, no dropzone can claim that a DZ is the "safest" or that "skydiving is safe." In the same way that every driver knows that it's inherently dangerous to drive, every skydiver--from tandem to top-level athlete--knows that skydiving is inherently dangerous, and that participants can be injured or even killed while participating.

With all of that common ground in view, let's talk a little about the safety comparison between driving and skydiving.

1. Driving is more familiar.

You've spent time in a car every single day of your life since the first time your parents drove you home from the hospital. That makes the inside of an automobile the most familiar environment in your entire human experience. That has the effect of making driving more routine and normalized than brushing your teeth.

We find it pretty ironic when a person who probably spent half the drive to the dropzone keeping up their Snapstreaks freaks out about the dangers of a skydive. Sure, spending time in freefall is a lot less familiar than spending time in your beat-up Elantra with the brakes worn close to zero, but your gut feelings are lying to you about the proportional dangers. (This video sums up the risk of skydiving pretty brilliantly.)

2. Driving is statistically way, way, WAY deadlier.

Here's the straight dope: Driving remains the number-one cause of death for Americans. This is true across age groups, across socioeconomic barriers and across ethnic lines. The seemingly simple act of driving a car on daily errands continues to be the single most dangerous activity we perform on any given day. The numbers are staggering. And nobody seems to notice.

To make your comparisons, go to the statistics collected by the United States Parachute Association. The organization has been steadfastly collecting skydiving safety statistics since the sport's earliest days. Those stats prove in black and white that skydiving is not only safer than most "extreme" activities, it's technically safer than some really mundane ones, driving included--and that safety is only getting better with time.

The numbers on driving tell the opposite story. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a normal person can expect to be involved in an accident at least once every ten years. Two to three of those incidents will involve an injury, and there's a not-so-awesome 1-in-20 chance that the incident will involve a serious injury.

Want to look at the numbers side to side?

Skydiving Fatalities in the US

Driving Fatalities in the US

Total Number of Fatalities in 2015

21

35,092

Fatality Rate

0.0061

*per 3.5 million jumps

1.12

* per 100 Million VMT

Avg Fatalities Per Day

.058

96

*Data Sources: USPA and NHTSA

3. Most of the variables hinge on the skills and mentality of the driver at the wheel.

Safe driving requires a solid educational foundation, focus and skill-building training in the context of continuing education. Just as advanced knowledge and a meticulously developed skill set helps professional drivers avoid accidents, it helps skydiving "chauffeurs" conduct their precious cargo safely to the ground on jump after jump.

That's why we're so proud of the tandem instructors at the Chattanooga Skydiving Company. Over thousands of jumps, tandem skydiving has become second nature for our eminently experienced, professional staff of instructors. They're the poshest chauffeurs in the sky, and their expertist makes the bright blue road to the ground just as smooth as can be, so you can simply enjoy watching the landscape slip past the windows of your eyes.

This is the truth at the heart of the matter: Living a truly risk-free life is impossible. Not only is the attempt to remove all risk from your life a fool's errand (that will certainly keep you out of motor vehicles, and probably strand you in a glass bubble), is a foolish idea. Trying to eliminate risk comes at the expense of the very experiences that make life worth living.

A well-lived life requires the wholehearted acceptance of measured, calculated, intelligent, life-affirming risks. And y'know what? Tandem skydiving is just what the doctor ordered. We're looking forward to showing you just how!

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