Robert Falck, Founder and CEO
In the aviation industry, 1972 marked the single deadliest year, as a total of 65 accidents cost nearly 2,500 people their lives. Simultaneously, the early 1970s also marks the starting point for a remarkable decrease in fatalities within the industry. Last year, 8 accidents took place with a total of 314 fatalities according to The Flight Safety Foundation. This year to date, 6 accidents with a total of 110 fatalities have been recorded.
Even though every life lost is a tragedy, this reduction is remarkable considering the fact that the number of departures across the world has increased dramatically in the decades since. Approximately 10 million departures took place worldwide in 1972 according to the World Bank, but in 2020, the number was 37.4 million.
In 1974, the ratio was 6.27 fatalities per million departures. In 2020, the ratio had been decreased to 0.42 fatalities per million departures – a 93 percent reduction.
Considering the successes of the aviation industry in reducing accidents and fatalities, the question is: how do other modes of transportation compare?
The ongoing road death epidemic
While the fatality rate per billion kilometres travelled by plane has been estimated to 0.003, the equivalent estimation for rail-based transport amounts to 0.27, and 2.57 for road-based transport. In addition to having a considerably higher ratio compared to other modes of transport, the latest edition of the Global status report on road safety published by the World Health Organization also shows that the number of deaths in absolute terms continues to increase.
In 2020, the number of deaths of road traffic amounted to 1.15 million. Since then, the number of deaths has increased and reached a total of 1.35 million in 2016.
In relation to the global population increase over these years, the ratio has decreased slightly from 18.8 in 2000 to 18.2 in 2016. Even though there are alternative aggregate measurements and that different road-based modes of transportation add more to the total rate of road traffic deaths than others, the World Health Organization’s conclusion is clear: “the number of road traffic deaths on the world’s roads remains unacceptably high.”
A simple solution: technology
In light of this stark contrast, why has the aviation industry managed to reduce fatalities so dramatically – but more importantly – why have fatalities in road-based transport more or less remained constant?
One of the key reasons why the aviation industry has managed to dramatically reduce fatalities is related to their approach to technology. The introduction of digital instruments, fly-by-wire technology, sensors, navigation equipment and air traffic control technology such as anti-collision control systems have all had a major impact.
The transformation that the aviation industry has undergone is to a large extent a transformation that the road-based transportation industry has ahead of itself. But the need to make that transformation now is more acute than ever.
And the reason is simple.
The technology that is needed to make road transport safer already exists and is ready to be rolled out on a massive scale. The challenge is no longer related to technology, but rapidly changing institutional frameworks to match the technology of today and tomorrow.
We envision a global Vision Zero enabled by new technology to achieve the same fatality reduction as the aviation industry has shown is possible.
This was my key message at today’s public hearing on AI and transport organized by the European Parliament’s Special Committee on Artificial Intelligence in a Digital Age (AIDA) and the Committee on Transport and Tourism (TRAN).