In the wake of Tuesday's Amtrak derailment, it's worth comparing the safety of trains versus other modes of travel. Though train accidents are terrifying — and get lots of public attention when they occur — the truth is that traveling by train is much, much safer than by car.
The most recent comparison was conducted in 2013 by economist Ian Savage. The number of rail deaths from year to year ranges widely (because many can happen in large, sporadic accidents), but between 2000 and 2009, a person was about 17 times more likely to die while traveling in a car, compared with on a train, for the same distance. Aviation is safer still — about 100 times safer than traveling by car.
The seven deaths that occurred during the recent derailment might change this, but only slightly. Though the rare train accidents and plane crashes that do occur get way more coverage, about 80 people die on US roads every single day — and on a per-mile basis, riding on a train or plane is much safer than in a car.