Humans are bad at understanding risk. We’re all a bit scared of mass shootings, but they only account for 0.1% of firearm fatalities in a year. Or as I shared a few years ago, the full list of what we’re scared of (and is shared by the news) is vastly different from what’s actually likely to kill us.
9/11 caused some of this type of behavior as well. From Robert Cialdini’s book “ Pre-Suasion “:
There are, for instance, dread risks, which involve risky steps that people take to avoid harm from something that is actually less risky but that they happen to be focused on at the time and have thereby come to dread. After the terrorizing events of September 11, 2001, when four commercial airliners were simultaneously flown to their destruction by Al Qaeda hijackers, media coverage of 9/11-related stories was heaviest. As a result, many thousands of Americans with long-distance travel plans abandoned the dreaded skies for the roads. But the fatality rate for highway travel is considerably higher than for air travel, making that choice the more deadly one. It’s estimated that about 1,600 Americans lost their lives in additional auto accidents as a direct result, six times more than the number of passengers killed in the only US commercial plane crash that next year.
Cialdini refers to American Airlines flight 587 which crashed in New York a few months after 9/11 killing 265 people, but that was the last commercial airline crash that we’ve seen in the US. I have to suspect that 9/11 kept some people away from airlines far longer than a year, meaning the 1,600 automobile fatalities statistic is probably far too low.
If you’re nervous about your mortality, worry most about heart disease and cancer, and take a flight when you travel instead of a long car trip. It might feel more dangerous because you’re not in control, but your odds of making it there alive are immensely higher.
It might not be possible to completely avoid the faulty logic of dread risks, but just being aware of them is a good first step.
Originally published at https://www.mickmel.com on December 6, 2023.