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Monday, May 10, 2010

a perilous journey


I am now in Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. I came here via Berwick-upon-Tweed. I started in Chesham, 30 miles from London. I’ve therefore been travelling for quite a long time.

Travelling is dangerous. Research has shown that you’re statistically more likely to be involved in a fatal accident when travelling somewhere than when sitting on the sofa watching snooker.

I did make it here in one piece but that was by luck rather than planning. I happily admit that I should have thought my journey through more carefully. I really can’t afford to take unnecessary risks at this early stage of my World Record Attempt.

So here, in retrospect, is a quick breakdown of the most dangerous forms of travel, based on some statistics on the odds of dying I dug up in the National Geographic.

The headline news, rather dishearteningly for me, is that the odds of dying at some point in your life (normally the very end) are 1 in 1. I will, they say, die. Definitely. But instead of dwelling on this rather stark prediction, I’ve got to make sure that when it happens to me I’ve already lived longer than anyone else.

Bearing that in mind, I should really avoid cars. The odds of death in a motor accident are 1 in 84, the highest non-medical cause. I drove to Berwick and to Heathrow. I was foolish.

Next up comes ‘falling’. Odds of death by ‘falling’: 1 in 218. Wisely I chose not to fall to Fermanagh, even though it would have been more direct than flying to Belfast City Airport and then getting a lift (in another dangerous car) from my mother-in-law.

Pedestrian accident: 1 in 626 – still pretty high. Again, it does seem like a sensible decision of mine not to walk here. What I perhaps should have done, however, is either swum (odds of drowning: 1 in 1008) or bought a motorbike, learnt to ride the motorbike, then ridden the motorbike (1 in 1020). Hindsight is a wonderful thing (in fact all forms of sight: hind-, fore-, eye-, in-, are going to be handy for this endeavour).

The odds of death on a bicycle are very slim: 1 in 4919, but that doesn’t take into account my poor technique. And anyway, it’s still not as slim as that of death by air travel (or space travel which, for some reason, National Geographic groups together with earth-bound flights) for which there’s just one death in every 5051. So, actually, my journey here was at least partially safe. I should have flown to Berwick and back instead of taking the car but at least I took a plane to Ireland. Well done me.

Of course, these statistics make pretty much no sense. I’m almost certain that every 5051st person to catch a plane doesn’t die. If they did, they probably shouldn’t sell that seat - or at least offer a discount.

Also, while air travel is apparently safe in the short term I have to remember I’m in this for the long haul. I have to live for another hundred years. If I choose to fly everywhere every day I’ll probably single-handedly cause the death of the planet itself and that wouldn’t help anybody.

So what I’ve learnt is this: be especially careful when travelling by car or foot. Never travel by falling. And if in doubt, jump on the back of a firework (odds of death by firework: 1 in 340,733, less than any other cause, including ‘legal execution’, ‘bee sting’ and ‘hot weather’).


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This'll certainly make you think twice about traveling. With those statistics, you can maybe influence people to ride their bikes more than drive their cars. But safety is a matter of personal choice, since you did drive and survive the journey.

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