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[Updated: June 4, 2000]                   Page 2 - For more safety issues see Page 1

The Most Dangerous Part Of Skydiving
By Gerry Smedinghoff -

"The most dangerous part of skydiving is the drive home from the drop zone." Or so goes the old skydiverís fireside myth. The question that skydivers like to speculate on is whether it even comes close to the truth. As they say in the rental car commercial, "not exactly."
For the average driver and the average skydiver, the answer is a definite, "No." The answer in the extreme case is still "No." Not only "No," but more accurately, not even close. Youíre 75 times more likely to die during a dayís skydiving than on the drive home. Unless a sober skydiver, attending to the standard BSRs during a dayís jumping, for some inexplicable reason chooses to get incredibly drunk and take suicidal risks behind the wheel, heís safer driving home - on average.
High Risk Activities
Roughly one automobile motorist in 7,500 will die on the roads this year, while roughly one skydiver in 1,000 will die skydiving. Right from the start, the average skydiver carries an annual risk of death more than seven times greater than the average motorist.
Assuming the average skydiver makes 20 trips to the DZ and 100 jumps per year, and assuming the average motorist drives 200 out of 365 days of the year (12,000 miles), a skydiver (if heís also an average motorist) is 75 times more likely to die skydiving than driving home from the DZ. Because an average day of skydiving encompasses 5% of his annual skydiving risk, while the average day of driving encompasses only 0.5% of his annual driving risk.
In the 1990s, roughly 8 women out of every 100,000 who give birth will die in the process. Compared to the 1997 USPA estimate of 1 fatality for every 100,000 jumps, that means that giving birth today is eight times more dangerous than a single skydive. But skydiving in the 1990s isnít nearly as risky as having a baby in the 1930s.
In the 1930s, the risk of dying in childbirth was more than 80 times greater than today, with 690 maternal fatalities per 100,000 births. If skydivers died at that rate today, half the USPA membership would die skydiving this year. So the next time you find yourself bragging about your bravery and high risk exploits, remember that you owe your grandmother a case of beer.
Medium Risk Activities
The additional risk assumed by the average skydiver of 1 in 1,000 deaths per year, is roughly equal to the fatality rate of the average 40 year-old. So a 40 year-old person doubles his chance of dying from 1 in a 1,000 to 2 in a 1,000 by becoming a skydiver. This sounds more dramatic than it is.
To put the risk of skydiving into perspective, letís compare it to smoking. A male smoker, who takes up the habit at age 15 and smokes until he dies, will, on average, cut his life short by more than 6 years. But a skydiver who makes 100 jumps a year for 40 years from age 25 to age 65 only shortens his life by an average of 1.3 years.
Breaking this down to the microscopic level, each cigarette consumed by the average smoker shortens his life by 5 minutes. Or, assuming he smokes 1Ĺ packs a day, by 2Ĺ hours out of each 24 hour day. That means that our average smoker shortens his future life expectancy by more than 10%. Applying the same logic to skydiving reveals that the average skydiver cuts his life short by 3 hours for each jump. Over a lifetime of skydiving, this only represents 2 Ĺ% of a skydiverís future life expectancy.
Interestingly enough, the timing of your birth is more important than skydiving and smoking put together. Someone born in 1980 is expected to live 8 years longer than someone born in 1940. Most of this increase is due to childhood vaccines, penicillin, and the fact that society at large continues to get wealthier as time progresses. So a skydiving smoker born in 1980 actually has a slightly longer life expectancy than a whuffo non-smoker born in 1940.
Average This!
By now you should be suspicious. Not that the calculations or conclusions are in error, but by the use of the word average Because when someone starts mixing that many numbers together, you should take a cue from the German playwright Hanns Johst, who almost said, "When I hear the word average, I reach for my revolver."
First, remember that the statistical data show that the average person in Miami, Florida is born Cuban and dies Jewish. And second, numbers cannot be casually multiplied and divided without corrupting their significance. Note that you canít make a baby in one month by assigning nine women to the project.
The effects of smoking are cumulative, while the risks of skydiving are not. Someone who smokes for 25 years has done serious damage to his body and will have to pay the consequences, even if he quits. But someone who has skydived for 25 years can quit tomorrow, and the risks he has taken in the past will have no effect on his future life expectancy.
In fact, with skydiving, risk accumulation is the opposite of smoking. The longer youíve been jumping, the more experienced you are and the safer youíll be. But the longer you smoke, the more damage you do to your body every day you persist with the habit.
No skydiver, motorist, or smoker is ever average in any specific situation. The most significant factors that affect your driving risk - not necessarily in order - are (a) how you drive - aggressively or defensively, (b) your mental state of mind - drowsy, angry, preoccupied, etc. (c) seat-belt use, (d) time of day, (e) blood alcohol content (BAC), (f) where you drive, and (g) your age. The car you drive, from the safe extreme of a new Volvo with side air bags, to the dangerous extreme of a 1975 Ford Pinto with the allegedly potentially exploding gas tank, lies near the bottom of the list of risk factors.
Unfortunately, the available data doesnít address the most significant factors (a) and (b). The safest time to drive, based on the number of fatalities, is 3:00 AM to 6:00 AM Monday - Friday, because the fewest number of cars are on the road and most of the drunks have made it home by then. The safest time to drive, based on the number of cars on the road, is the morning commute from 6:00 AM to 9:00 AM. Interestingly enough, the afternoon commute, from 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM is two-thirds more dangerous than the morning commute, probably because there are more people on the road, driving more aggressively (the Dilberts of the world have to vent his frustrations somehow), with more alcohol in their system.
The worst times to be on the road, both from a total fatality and number of cars perspectives are - not surprisingly - 6:00 PM Friday or Saturday afternoon to 3:00 AM the next morning. People are driving faster (because there is less traffic), visibility is reduced (because itís dark), BAC levels are higher, and drivers are more likely to fall asleep at the wheel. The nighttime alcohol related fatality rate is more than four times the daytime rate.
Also of note, in the average 3 Ĺ day period from 6:00 PM Friday evening to 6:00 AM Tuesday morning, about 340 people die in auto accidents. But, on the typical holiday weekend (Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day), fatalities jump by more than 40% to over 500. Most of the extra fatalities are due to alcohol.
More than half the auto fatalities occur on two lane undivided highways, while less then 7% occur on divided highways (interstates), the primary target of the 55 mile per hour safety initiative back in the 1970s. By age, the drivers most at risk are the young and inexperienced, age 16-20, and the elderly over age 65. The fatality rate of drivers over 60 increases exponentially, much in the same way that the fatality rate of drivers increases with BAC.
Even though seat belt use exceeds 70% nationwide, people who donít wear seatbelts account for almost 2/3 of highway fatalities. Failure to wear a seatbelt attracts a driver to the fatality statistics like iron filings to a magnet. Not wearing a seat belt is somewhat like skydiving without a reserve. If you drive home at night, after several beers, on two-lane roads, without a seat belt, your risk of dying is greatly increased, but probably not as much as a dayís worth of skydiving.
No one can go skydiving without signing a waiver explicitly stating the risks in bold capital letters. But the closest thing to a waiver for having a baby is a marriage license, and thatís optional. While everyone canít become a skydiver, any woman of childbearing age can get pregnant.
The skydiving fatality statistics are comprised of trained licensed skydivers. But fatalities during childbirth are heavily weighted towards women who are poor, live in rural areas with limited access to health care, drug addicts, prostitutes, and teenage runaways. Consequently, a woman who chooses to have a baby and follows the pre-natal BSRs, faces a risk of dying that is much less than the 8 out of 100,000 that the government statistics show.
So, youíre definitely fudging the truth when you tell someone that the most dangerous part of skydiving is the drive home. But itís an excusable lie, especially to whuffos. Because the best way to reduce the death toll on the nationís highway would be to make every motorist sign a waiver that includes the statement, "WARNING: Driving to school to pick up your kids from soccer practice is a dangerous activity that can result in SERIOUS INJURY and or DEATH!"

For more safety issues see Page 1

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