The ideal comparison might be hours climbing vs. hours driving. Another might be "a year of being a driver" vs. "a year of being a climber." Insurance companies think that way and (as we know) may charge climbers higher rates.
So, we'd want to know how many people climb. I can't find that info but did find that 22.2 million Americans go backpacking, or about 1/15. Climbers are certainly less numerous than that. So, multiplying accidents by 15 to control for "exposure" would be a start on one way to compare.
Thanks for pointing out this way to control for exposure. I added some numbers to the table using a factor of 50. Still safer to climb, I believe it every time I subject myself to trying to drive around Seattle.
Especially the numbers on ascent vs descent. I had often heard that an accident during descent was far more likely. Apparently not the case.
Thanks for posting.
great stats there, i only wish there was a cause of fatalities chart, i bet lightning would seem more substantial than in the 'primary cause of accidents'
I always look forward to reading your articles. Your interest in mountaineering combined with your skill in research always makes for a good read. Also, the graphical displays of information are fantastic!
I love this statement:
"I was interested in how the frequency of mountaineering accidents compares with the frequency of traffic accidents. As I've always suspected, the statistics reveal that the real danger of a climbing trip is the drive to and from the climb"
My parents are rather overprotective so I try to combat the unrealistic view of climbing which has been cast by the media with logical statements similar to yours. I've actually been comparing the danger of climbing to the danger of driving for years.
Whenever I read an article about mountaineering accidents (or most any kind of accident) I also wonder how much goes unreported either because the group relies upon a wide variety of reporting sources or because there is no legislation requiring reporting. My gut feeling tells me that much like whitewater accidents unless officials are involved for some reason either in the rescue or as witnesses etc. or as required by law some accidents just aren't ever written down anywhere.
For example, while unrelated since it wasn't climbing, in August 2009 I slipped off a trail in Rainier NP and broke my ankle. I walked down the trail myself and tried to find first aid help but none seemed available at that hour so we drove out of the park to our chalet and took care of the injury ourselves. I will never show up as an accident for August 2009, yet I know Rainier keeps stats on all rescues, first aid given etc.
Also, I think about "near-misses" like those in airline situations. Very rarely do you read about the times someone almost got killed but was unhurt by another climber's actions climbing upward etc. Sometimes the other group of climbers never even interact with the "near miss" party.
Anyway, thanks Steph for providing much food for thought!
P.S. The Total Fatal and Reported Accident cartograms reminded me so much of deformed butterflies that I could barely get past their shapes to read them! Nothing like color and graphs to make a point!
Good points. I think the unreported aspect is inherrent to almost any statistical data out there, and algorithms have even been created to correct for unreported and missing data. Usually percentages (such as the pie charts) and relative numbers can be relied upon better than absolute values (which are probably a bit low).
Sorry, but your factor of 50 still doesn't allow for a realistic comparison of climbing and driving. As Arthur Digbee indicated the number you need is total person-hours/year driving divided by total person-hours/year climbing. Your estimate of 50 accounts for the fact that more people drive than climb but doesn't account for the different amount of time that is spent on each activity. I'm certain that the number of driving hours is much more than 50 times greater than the number of climbing hours.
Similarly, the comparison of total accidents in each state doesn't allow the conclusion that climbing in one state is safer than another etc. In order to make that type of comparison the number of person-hours climbing in each state must be factored in. The presented state-by-state statistics mostly indicate which states have the most climbing, not which are the most dangerous.
Thanks for your suggestions, which I agree with. I've revised the text of my article appropriately. I've still kept the factor of 50 for reasons I mention in the article, but mentioned that a better normalizing factor would be person-hours.
just wondering where riding a bicycle thru heavy urban traffic to go cragging, climbing all day, then riding back thru heavy evening commute puts you in those stats?
Depends on whether you know how old you are.
"The statistics reveal that the real danger of a climbing trip is the drive to and from the climb."
You're implying that climbing is safer than driving. Psychologically, I like this conclusion. It can help me justify the activity to people who ask me "why the hell would you want to climb that? It's dangerous." However, the statistics you've put up state that if you get in an accident while climbing you are more likely to be injured and waaay more likely to die in comparison to being in a car accident. In terms of the frequency of car accidents and climbing accidents, as noted by others, there needs to be a meaningful way to compare the relative frequency of accidents between the two activities. It would be interesting to see, in an academic sense, the relative accident frequency rates of the activities and then factor in the higher injury and fatality rates of climbing. I wonder if the conclusion would be the same.
Unfortuantely...I don't know where you'd find the data and I don't know what purpose it would serve. I mean it could be an interesting academic discussion, but climbing is a dangerous activity. Is it more or less dangerous than X, Y or Z activity? That depends on what you're talking about. The relative danger certainly will not eliminate the very real existential danger of climbing.
BTW great website
Assuming a factor of 50 (which is dubious as above arguments have mentioned, although I'm not sure if it should be increased or decreased, based on my personal climbing:driving ratio), then I believe this statement factors both the accident frequency rate plus the fatality rate of climbing:
"Taking the US population as a whole, a person is 1,500x (/50 = 30) more likely to die in a traffic accident than in a climbing accident."
So, a factor of 30 in favor of living longer if you climb...=)
Well, there are a lot of apples to oranges comparisons in the way you're looking at this.
Driving is very safe relative to serious mountaineering. Your risk of dying in a SINGLE attempt on Mt Everest (1.6%) is about three times your LIFETIME risk of dying while traveling in a car or pickup truck (0.5%).
Of course, for the general population, the risk of dying on Mt. Everest is something ridiculously small, like 0.000001%, whereas for the general population the risk of eventually dying in a car is ... 0.5%. But that doesn't mean it's safer to climb Mt Everest than to drive to grandma's house.
If you live in the US, though, driving your car to Mt. Everest probably IS more risky than the climb itself ...
I think the obvious reason that climbing accidents have a higher incidence of death in the statistics is due to reporting bias. I think it is safe to assume that nearly all climbing accidents involving death are reported. An unknown (assumed large) proportion of minor accidents go unreported, whereas almost any auto injury is reported due to insurance/legal reasons.
I think the only conclusions that could be drawn is that the statistics suffer from too many unknown factors to make much in the way of useful inferences.
Iowa would fall under the category "Central" which according to the pie charts has 2.3% of the mountaineering accidents and 1.1% of the mountaineering fatalities in the US. From the raw AAC data tables I used, this equates to 134 accidents and 17 fatalities between 1951-2006. At least one of these has had to occur in Iowa. Maybe....
(By the way, here's a link to the raw data for the 2007 Statistical tables I used off the AAC website.)
...interesting that there are no mountaineering accidents in Iowa.
actually i'm sure sometime/somewhere a climber that's been exiled to Iowa or Kansas has peeled off the top of a silo while fantasizing about sunbleached granite!...
I see a butterfly and / or a lobster ....
The graph that surprises me the most is the experience level! It seems to be evenly divided.
On equal ground experienced climbers might be less likely to get into trouble than inexperienced climbers, but on the other hand they tend to attempt more challenging (and probably more dangerous) routes....