Planes, Trains, and PTSD

While you may be afraid of flying, your pilot is certainly not — with these few exceptions outlined by pilot Patrick Smith. It’s been nearly eight years since the last fatal crash of a large passenger jet here in America, an unprecedented streak. Compare that with the last revolution in public transportation: train travel. The first public passenger railroad opened in England in 1825. By the 1860’s, railway accidents had killed, maimed, and otherwise traumatized so many that doctors had to coin a term to describe the shock suffered by rail crash survivors; they called it “railway spine,” and the debate that surrounded it planted the seeds for the study of what we know today as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. [%comments]

Joe D

So maybe cars don't count as "public transportation," but how many people were killed, maimed, and traumatized by cars by 1940?

Avi Rappoport

Recently, the death rate for car crashes has run about 40,000 people a year. Triple that for maimed and/or traumatized...


Exatcly, commentor #1

"The common man, woman and child of civilization, on leaving home, are now much less certain than they were 2000 years ago of surviving the outing. And this is due wholly and solely to the introduction of the internal combustion engine, for road transport, at a moment in history when humanitarianism and the respect for individual freedom and human life and dignity were at their lowest ebb."

- Anthony M. Ludovici The New English Weekly 32, 1947–48


Plane transportation seems much more of a disaster because of the money loss involved in it. Millions of dollars are lost in a plane crash, along with possible things that the plane crashes into. A railroad accident does not "cost" as much, even though human fatalities are much about the same. People might be able to survive railroad crashes with a higher percentage, therefore having more survivors of it for doctors. Every tragedy causes flashbacks and whatnot about the event, but this does not mean that people who survive plane crashes might not suffer of post-traumatic stress disorder.


40,000 a year doesn't get at. Do the division to really feel the impact:

109 Americans die on the road every day.

That's a lot of families. In fact, you can't talk to anyone who doesn't know someone who has been killed by an automobile.

Of course that's just part of the human toil. There are the injuries too. And the fact that the automobile has stolen just about everyone's legs. So Americans trend to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

But deeper: Having cycled across country let me tell you this: Your highways are replete with dead animals. Your culture is very good at slaughtering mammals...


* 41 million squirrels
* 26 million cats
* 22 million rats
* 19 million opossums
* 15 million raccoons
* 6 million dogs
* 350,000 deer

The real interesting questions are of course: Why has the automobiling thrived despite these facts? There are a ton of reasons for that. For example, the ton of car commercials that Americans have been subjected to since birth. Certainly you can't expect anybody to think clearly about the automobiling culture given that fact. That would be like asking goldfish to examine the water they swim in...



Is there any research to back the Ludovici statement up? I find it hard to believe by the numbers, and "at a moment in history when humanitarianism and the respect for individual freedom and human life and dignity were at their lowest ebb" might be the purest BS I've ever read on the web (and there's some pretty tough competition there).

In any case, when we talk about risks and danger among the various modes of transportation, shouldn't we be talking about risk of death per unit of distance traveled rather than absolute number of deaths? I do agree with Joe that the advent of motorized street travel was a revolution too, even if you only count buses.



Sure, you can find out exactly how many people have died in pedestrian/motor-vehicle accidents then compare it to how many people could have possibly been eaten and still have allow mankind to flourish. Really, I can not think of another way in which man has been subject to such predation in his own villages, especially on the scales it happens today. In 1903 tigers killed 800 or so Indians a year. Automobiles killed 6,500 a year in 1903 Britain(one tenth the population of India). Today tiger fatalities aren't worth mentioning.

Re-framing things... tigers certainly never ate 109 people a day or 40,000 a year(In America alone).

Risk of death per unit of distance traveled when applied to pedestrian/cyclist fatalities resulting from a collision with a car makes things look very risky for those not behind the wheel.


#5 - the error in your comment is that it ignores the benefits gained by people driving. Thanks to autos, we get places faster and more efficiently, we do not have to own animals (such as horses) to get us around (which would lead to all sorts of other problems), goods are cheaper and more readily available, etc.

So, not to sound crass, but a certain number of deaths and injuries to both human and animal life is (a) a price we must pay, and (b) probably less than it would be if we didn't have automobiles (for example, people who can't get to hospitals because there are no ambulances or roads/highways for ambulances to drive on).

Your post is an example of the logical fallacy that if one thing is bad, that must mean that the other things is better. The error is that the other thing could be worse.