Safety is an Expensive Illusion

Man, I sure lead a risky life these days. I’ve learned that I am on the bleeding edge of so many wild frontiers, it is a wonder that I’m still alive. When you add in the fact that I’m also in great health, happy and content with life, and I even still have all of my fingers and toes, I am expecting a call from the Guinness Book of World Records any day now.

Let’s review a few of the risks people have told me I’m running:

  • When I write about my strategy of driving only small, fuel-efficient cars, people chime in about how dangerous it is to drive anything except large trucks like the Chevrolet Tahoe.
  • When I write about how we should all ride bikes, people whine about the danger of getting hit by cars while cycling.
  • When I describe my love of carpentry and the power tools which make it possible, I get tales of severed fingers and punctured eyeballs.
  • When I suggest that it’s more cost-effective to use only high-deductible health and home insurance, people talk about the risk of chronic diseases lurking just around the corner and the litigious people with slippery shoes who might fall on my sidewalk.
  • When I write about how I never keep more than a few thousand dollars in uninvested cash around (instead of the $30,000 “emergency fund” that beginner financial advisers suggest), people gasp and talk about the dangers of holding only volatile investments.
  • I’ve been riding dirt bikes and motorcycles for 22 years now.. long enough to receive dozens of lessons about how dangerous those Death Machines are.
  • I’ve even received earnest lectures about the dangers of microwave ovens, cell phones, wi-fi routers, fiat currency, nonstick pans, and the radioactive fallout from Japanese nuclear reactors. All of which I have taken no precaution against.

So I’ve come to realize that I really am living on the edge by modern standards.

How could this be? Why does our society have this obsession with safety and danger anyway? Have they picked it up from watching TV during these past fifteen years since I tuned out of the medium?

Modern media seems to have figured out that Fear Sells*. If it’s possible to portray something as Scary, those sumbitches will find a way to do it. They’ve noticed two things:

  • Fear will keep you glued to the TV set
  • Fear will fool you into making purchases “to protect yourself”

I see all of this as breaking down to two possibilities: Either I really am a radical risk-taker and these detractors of mine are much more sensible than I am. Or maybe, just maybe Mr. Money Mustache has actually thought about all this shit and still come to the conclusion that life is safe enough.

As it turns out, I like doing the math on things like this. I can’t keep myself from making estimates of the Expected Value of almost every life action you can put a number on. These calculations happen whether I want them to or not, so I might as well make the best of it.

Let’s use the often-repeated Small Car Argument as an example.

I love small cars – the smaller the better. Better handling, easier parking, less wasted materials, and much better fuel efficiency. But some people think small cars are unsafe. They like to repeat scary statements like, “In a crash, the big vehicle wins. End of story”.

But let’s look into that a bit further. The US government agency called the NHTSA compiles statistics of every major crash that happens in this country, and they’ve been doing it for decades. This has helped car manufacturers improve their designs to the point that fatalities (per mile driven) have dropped by 85% since the 1950s. What’s the rate today? About one fatality per hundred million vehicle miles driven.

Next we can compare the fatality rates by vehicle type:
The measurement is a little different, since this chart compares fatalities per 100,000 vehicles instead of per mile. But we can still reasonably estimate that my subcompact car is about 16.85/12.34 =  37% more dangerous than a full-size SUV. (also note that midsize cars are safer than SUVs of any type, further proving that the S is for Sucka).

In an average year, I might drive 7,000 miles. So I’ve got a 7000/100,000,000 chance of killing myself by driving in any given year. In other words, there’s a 99.993% chance of surviving.

I’ve got at best 60 driving years left in my life, so over a lifetime my chance of survival is (99.993^60), or 99.58%.  In other words, driving causes an expected 0.42% reduction in my lifespan. 0.42% of 60 years is about 4 months.

If I increase my chance of dying by 37%, I subtract another 1.5 months from my expected lifetime.

Is driving a Chevrolet Tahoe instead of my 2005 Scion xA for 60 years worth that extra 1.5 months of life I’m expected to gain from it? Let’s put that another way.

Driving 7,000 miles a year for 60 years adds up to 420,000 miles. According to the EPA website, the 2005 Tahoe gets 14MPG combined, using 30,000 gallons of gas costing $120,000 at today’s prices.

The Scion, burning at the EPA estimate of 30MPG combined (even though I average about 42 in mine), will use up $56,000 of gas. The fuel savings is $64,000. The savings over a lifetime of buying and maintaining smaller vehicles is even larger, but for this argument, fuel savings alone is enough to make the point.

How long do you have to work to save $64,000 after taxes, commuting, and other work-related expenses? I’m guessing it is at least 6 months, and more likely two years or more.

So the ‘safe’ SUV driver is working an extra two years, in order to extend his life by 1.5 months. That is not my idea of a good life strategy.

And that’s before even taking into account the happiness gained by driving a sweet little well-engineered Japanese car instead of a gigantic piece of shit that can barely navigate a parking lot!

Ok, that example ran a little long, but it sets us up nicely to handle the rest of the list in a flash.

As it turns out, riding a bike extends your lifespan (due to health increases) by between 20 and 100 times more than it subtracts due to statistical risk of crashes. Ride a bike, and you can expect to live a lot longer, it’s as simple as that. Add in the cost savings from cycling, and the decision becomes even more obvious.

Investing your money in productive assets like stocks provides much greater returns than keeping it “safe” in guaranteed accounts which don’t even keep up with inflation.

Over-insuring yourself for any risk (including medical bills) provides a guaranteed stop on possible annual losses, in exchange for a statistically guaranteed larger lifetime loss in wealth. I can do the math almost as well as the actuaries at the insurance company can, and because of that, I carry insurance only against the most catastrophic cases (which don’t include minor things like totaling a car or under $10,000 of damage to my house).

Carpentry and power tools provide guaranteed returns in exchange for an acceptably small amount of risk, so I take the risk and continue to profit.

The microwave and the cell phone present no statistically significant risk to human health. Even if there was a risk, it would very likely be lower than the utility that these devices provide to my life, so I’d still use them.

Do you see the pattern now?

The risk-fearing Complainypants types always focus on the negative consequences of any possible activity.

What they’re missing is the risk of not engaging in that activity. That risk is just as real, and it’s usually larger. But it’s a more hidden and less scary risk, so they take it, and over time they lose.

Statistically, there only two risks in modern life that are significant enough to get me a little scared:

  1. The risk of wasting my life by not living it to its fullest
  2. The risk of ruining my own health at an early age, possibly limiting my ability to accomplish #1

For most US residents, both of these carry a probability that is astronomically higher than everything else described in this article combined. Upwards of 50%.

It’s so huge, that almost no other risks matter by comparison. So we can happily ignore everything else and focus on just those two things.

My goal for the Mustachians is to constantly whittle both of those numbers down toward zero. Interestingly enough, the best way to accomplish it is often to fuck the conventional notions of “Safety” and start putting some good old-fashioned Risk back into your life.

Update: One year later, I dug into the bicycling statistics a bit more and wrote another article on scaredypants disease. Biking turned out to be a little bit more dangerous than I had estimated, but it still easily wins as the safest form of transportation, because it extends your life by much more than it subtracts. Many complaints poured in over the minute details, but none were able to overcome the logic that is similar to this article: NOT cycling (or walking extensively every day) is a guaranteed loss. Sitting on your ass at a desk is extremely hazardous to your health. Cycling is a huge gain, with a small and easily mitigated accident loss that you subtract from that gain.

*Fear Sells: That is surely why the Bullshit TV News focuses on scary and irrational short-term issues. But you know what? I’m finding that Optimism Sells as well, and it sells to a much nicer audience. To some, this is just a natural way of viewing the world, but it seems we’re an under-served audience. Optimism is also why I sought out that guest article from Jim Collins– he’s one of the few other people out there correctly reminding us that Everything is gonna be All Right.

  • Dancedancekj June 8, 2012, 1:44 pm

    Just a thought that perhaps the environment of “safety first” of our current culture comes also from the litigious culture that currently exist.
    Take for example, the medical field. Patients threaten to sue and will pursue suits for anything and everything (I heard of a new graduate who was being investigated due to leaving a cotton roll in a patient’s mouth. Ridiculous). As a result, the current education overemphasizes precautions, sometimes to the point where it hinders the actual procedure itself, all for the service of pandering to the needs of some paranoid individuals. Providers follow this protocol, due to the fear of being hit with a lawsuit (despite however infinitesimally tiny the probability). Patients find new things to be paranoid or to sue over, and the cycle continues.
    It’s gotten to the point where it has become ridiculous. Take the above example of eating silica gel packets. Superman cape does not allow user to fly. Do not drive while on narcotics. These are basic concepts that people should understand without needing detailed explanation. A person one hundred years ago that would eat a strange packet of unknown material, imagine a piece of cloth would enable them to fly, or attempt to operate machinery while under the influence of drugs that effected their motor abilities would have died, and yet we are still haven’t been killed off by the many hundreds of hazards we allegedly face daily. Amazing, isn’t it?

    • Gerard June 8, 2012, 8:24 pm

      One of the local guidebooks here says, “Newfoundlanders assume that people already know that cliffs are dangerous, so there are no warning signs.”

      • Tina June 8, 2012, 8:58 pm

        There is a sign in the Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas that shows two ears on either side of a blank head, with an arrow pointing to the head. The meaning is “Use Your Head!”

        When I went into a restroom at a ski resort here in the USA some years back, and saw a sign on the back door reading “Skiing may be hazardous to your health” I realized we had become the most pathetic nation on earth.

  • Ron June 8, 2012, 2:46 pm

    A badass breakdown of how irrational most people’s fears are. One problem though, in my humble opinion, people’s fears are rooted in emotion so mathematical logic won’t prompt many to change their behaviors.

    • Bakari Kafele June 9, 2012, 6:34 pm

      True, but education can go a long way to balancing that out. Some people might choose to continue being irrational, but most people don’t know that they are in the first place.

  • Lucas Smith June 8, 2012, 4:55 pm

    Love it. I totally think this way as well. I have been getting into surfing (which is awesome exercise), and my wife gets freaked out by the idea of a shark getting me, while I know that the risks from ocean currents or even sand cave-ins on the beach are much greater. And that doesn’t account for any of the excercise or life satisfaction increase :-)

    Keep on promoting common sense and good logic!!!

  • Ryan June 8, 2012, 6:16 pm

    I have been hit by a car while riding a bike (it hurts a lot!).
    I have broken my leg while skiing (it also hurts a lot!).
    I have been hit by four hurricanes in a single year.
    I have been struck by lightning.
    I have been caught in a burning vehicle.

    I still ride bicycles, ski, live in Florida, sail my boat, drive vintage cars and keep the absolute minimum insurance possible. Mathematical logic tells me I’d better get all the adventure in before something bad happens! : P

    • George June 9, 2012, 8:01 pm

      Holy crap. You’ve actually been hit by lightning and are okay? Thats incredible. Whenever someone says that “[something] is about as likely as being hit by lightning” do you respond with, “Been there, done that.”

      • BeyondtheWrap June 10, 2012, 6:36 pm

        If you get struck by lightning, you have a 90% chance of surviving.

        It says so on Cracked, so it must be true.


        • Ryan June 11, 2012, 9:47 am

          It’s probably true, we hear of a death every once in awhile but there are plenty of near death experiences here in the lightning capital of the universe (Central Florida). I still have the charred telephone that I was holding and the dead tree carcass outside my workshop as mementos. My property was hit five times just yesterday afternoon alone so I wonder how that changes my 99.993% chance of immortality?

  • Gaspode June 8, 2012, 6:42 pm

    The personal safety issue is I believe a morality issue as well, and the SUV driver’s “It makes me safer!” rationale seems to me to be a very selfish perspective. Driving a heavy vehicle because you would ‘win’ in a crash just leads essentially to an arms race. Heavier vehicles cause collosally more damage to other vehicles and roadway users in a crash, is it OK then to accept such collateral damage just to make oneself supposedly a little safer? We have such a Me First culture as it is, I think it would be a great thing if more people made lifestyle choices such that if everyone else were to do likewise it would make a better world.

  • Taylor June 8, 2012, 7:56 pm

    I love when you break stuff down with data. This is quickly becoming one of my favorite blogs. Keep it up, great stuff!

  • Ripa June 8, 2012, 8:23 pm

    Thank you for another illuminating post, Mr. Money Mustache.

    The thing that scares me away from motorcycles is not the possibility of death but of crippling injury. Death is going to happen anyway. But paralysis etc. would seriously decrease my life mojo.

    Can you use your fancy number magic to make me feel better about riding a motorcycle? I am currently between commuter cars and would love to downsize my fuel and maintenance costs.

    • Bakari Kafele June 9, 2012, 8:01 pm

      Motorcycles show greater accident rates because motorcyclists as a group tend to drive more dangerously. This should be obvious if you think about it, but there is plenty of data to back it up
      The vast majority of motorcyclists involved in fatal or serious accidents have one or more of the following voluntary risk factors: alcohol impairment, speeding, reckless driving, no formal training, previous tickets or accidents, large displacement (fast) motorcycle, lack of helmet.
      The rates of all of these are substantially higher for motorcyclists as a group than for the general population of drivers. The more a person falls into the stereotypical idea of “biker”, the higher the risk. Even when the rider has the legal right of way, and gets hit by a car, this combination of factors indicates that a responsible rider would likely have avoided the same collision (otherwise all riders would be represented equally).

      Based on the only study I am aware of that controlled for differences in driver behavior, unsafe behavior on the part of the rider accounts for 100% of the difference in accident rates: when comparing across only one demographic, they found accident rates to actually be LOWER among motorcycle riders than car drivers:
      (I’ve seen the original study that website references, but for the life of me I can’t find it on The Google. Doesn’t help that my internet is cutting out every 5 minutes….)

      The one factor of increased risk not under your control as a rider is reduced visibility to car drivers. This is why you often see riders with flashing headlights and taillights, reflective vests, and reflective stickers on the bike and helmet. The whole thing about not having the “protection” of a car is mostly due to a misunderstanding of physics, much like the myth that SUVs are safer than cars (as MMMs chart clearly refutes). Just watch some professional motorcycle racers crash at speeds of over 100mph and get up and keep racing.


      • jlcollinsnh June 10, 2012, 9:40 pm


        Interesting and encouraging stuff for this MC rider. Even though I have a few of those extra risk factors. :)

        The only thing I’d quibble with is the last line about pro racers. You are correct that they can a do have ‘get-offs’ at 100+ mph and walk away just fine. But that is due to the design of the race track and their top-notch gear.

        On a well designed track when a rider crashes there is nothing, short of other riders, to crash into. Basically the bike and rider go down and slide to a halt after momentum is expended. If the gear holds up to the bumps and friction along the way, and good gear does, the rider comes away with just a few bruises, mostly to their ego.

        This is why, BTW, the Isle of Man TT races are so deadly. They are held not on a track but on public streets lined with stone walls and other stuff to slide into. That’s what kills you.

        Add cars to the mix and that’s also what riders deal with in non-race crashes. Those are much harder to walk away from.

        • Bakari Kafele June 11, 2012, 1:41 pm

          Oh for sure, I didn’t mean to imply the streets were like the racetrack in that way. On the other hand, no one should ever be riding 100MPH+ on city streets when they aren’t in a sanctioned race!!!

          Point is, many people have the perception that a crash on a motorcycle is inevitable death, just because there is a balance factor, or because there is nothing between you and the ground, and watching the racers crash proves that isn’t true.
          The risk is in running into things (which you can almost guarantee to avoid by driving no faster than your skill and equipment can handle) and getting hit by cars – which is a risk in a cage too.

          • abc June 12, 2012, 3:09 pm

            instant death isn’t the concern. The concern regarding MC accidents is losing your foot, lung, and ability to walk and/or wipe your own ass for the rest of your life.

            Not only that, it’s often not your mistake which results in a horrendous life-altering outcome, but rather the mistake of an inattentive motorist.

            MMM doesn’t drive very much because it’s one of the most dangerous activities we engage in on a regular basis, and reducing your exposure to other road-going idiots is a wise move. It’s also cheaper and healthier to avoid auto travel of course!

  • slowth June 8, 2012, 8:34 pm

    MMM, this post reminded me of this book I read a couple of years ago, The Science of Fear. The odds really are in our favor.


  • Tina June 8, 2012, 8:53 pm

    I’m a runner. Guess what I hear all the time from sedentary folk? Oh, that running . . . it’s going to ruin your knees!

    Wrong, wrong, wrong. The top two causes of knee pain are age and excess weight. Can’t do a damn thing about the first, and the second isn’t an issue for most runners. Study after study shows running is good for your knees and ligaments, and keeps runners lean and healthy. Sometimes other injuries having nothing to do with running can flare up and sideline you, but again, not the pure act of running itself.

    In the meantime, the naysayers are sitting on their sofas, gaining weight and heading down the, unfortunately, increasingly predictable paths of diabetes, stroke and heart disease.

    I used to expend injury trying to re-educate people about the benefits of running, until I realized their protests were a smoke screen for their own laziness. Now I just save my breath.

    • Drew June 9, 2012, 12:45 am

      So true. My father has been running for 30 years (myself for 11) and neither of us has ever experienced any sort of knee pain. While my testimony is merely anecdotal, I always point the doubters to the supporting data.

    • George June 9, 2012, 5:56 pm

      Good, point, I run too. Only once you become a regular in jogging can you truly understand how much it helps your body.

      I would say that there is nothing that makes you feel as good as being a runner. Its probably one of the best exercises ever for your body. You just feel so much more full of life. Plus its easy to do, and its cheap. All you need is some neighbor streets to run on and a good set of running shoes (these are the only major cost, and yes its worth getting good ones, they will last you hundreds or a thousand miles or more).

      Considering we are talking about safety, heart disease right now is the number cause of death for Americans. Really there is no better way to kick death’s ass and throw it to the curb than by some doing some good jogging.

      In fact there really is nothing that you can even buy with all the money in the world that will make you feel as good as being a long distance runner (in that it will make you feel good for all 24 hours during every day as long as you stay in shape).

      Once you get to be able to do a steady jog for 3 miles or more without stopping, you just get this great feeling of energy and life like you just became 10 years younger. Plus other studies now even suggest that you actually get smarter from this as well*


  • Sir Weymouth Cheddaring June 8, 2012, 9:17 pm

    Finally got through all of the posts to today, and boy, I am a convert!

    At my university, when the weather is nice, I don’t wear shoes when walking to and from class. Most people say I am crazy, I think not. The main objection is that drunk people leave broken glass everywhere. My tuition pays Fat Stacks of Cash for crews of people to keep the campus beautiful. Broken glass scattered about is the opposite of that. For me, the risk of potential foot damage is far outweighed by my ability to physically connect with the ground and enjoy the large amount of quite lovely and soft grass we have. I also feel that shoes are strange leather and rubber wrappings that constrain my feet. Since this realization, I have even started running barefoot!

    As a note- I do keep a pair of flip flops with me for bathrooms and when required by the premises. Or I wear surprisingly comfortable and long lasting steel-toe boots for engineering labs or work in the theater.

    • Emmers June 10, 2012, 11:49 am

      At my university, the broken glass was limited to the portion of campus occupied by the fraternities. I walked barefoot a lot the two years I lived on the other side of campus, but when I moved to the side with the frats I had to put my shoes back on, alas.

  • Adam Godet June 8, 2012, 10:08 pm

    MMM, I’m assuming, based on his posts, if not a fan punk music, at least respects its associated DIY ethic. That said, this post brings to mind several Bad Religion tunes, but maybe this one is the most appropriate:

    lyrics here: http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/badreligion/losangelesisburning.html

    Punk’s not dead, MMM! AND, this post punched me in the face into finally jumping into the market (while I pay off my mortage, of course)

  • Holly Thrifty June 9, 2012, 6:18 am

    I work with people who cringe knowing when I leave my house the washer, dryer, dishwasher and crock pot are working at full force. My house COULD burn down. But statistically speaking, that’s rare for any of these to cause fires.

    I value my time, I trade money for time…a cleaning lady to give me time to enjoy my weekends. Yes, she could steal everything when she cleans when we’re not home. My not taking that risk, is robbing me of my life–and I will not take that type of risk.

  • bigato June 9, 2012, 7:55 am

    On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.

  • Amanda June 9, 2012, 8:10 am

    Good old cost/benefit analysis <3 So many people only focus on half of it, glad to see both sides getting some attention.

  • Shilpan June 10, 2012, 3:37 pm

    Risk of harboring fake worries and failures can cause more misery than anything else that you’ve mentioned in your list. Protect your mind to protect your health, wealth and happiness.

  • pachipres June 10, 2012, 6:34 pm

    My 11 year old son makes it sound like I am the worst parent when I make him bike to his friend’s house 2 Km away. Ever since this MMM blog, myself, and my two boys have been biking everywhere. My 7 year old even biked 45 minutes to an outing a few weeks ago. So thanks MMM for encouraging all of us readers to ride when we can instead of always driving places. You have been a great inspiration this way!

  • Mr. Risky Startup June 10, 2012, 11:01 pm

    Great line from the great movie we watched couple of weeks ago (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) spoken by the hotel manager:

    “Everything will be all right in the end… So if it is not all right, then it is not yet the end.”


  • Nurse Frugal June 11, 2012, 10:53 am

    What a great post!! It’s so true! As a nurse, they definitely instill a fear factor in us going to school: “always educate your patients on how to protect themselves when participating in risky behaviors!” There is definitely a line between common sense, skill, and stupidity. For example, my husband LOVES to surf and frequently sees sharks where he surfs. Am I worried, a little bit, I’m not going to lie. Do I think my husband is skilled enough to avoid the shark so he can have some time out in the water to preserve his sanity?? DEFINITELY!!! Everything just needs to be done within reason, if my husband were going to take some friends who had never surfed before into the shark-infested waters, I might blow an aneurysm. You definitely have to live your life, and at the same time use common sense.

  • Clint June 11, 2012, 8:15 pm

    OK, this isn’t exactly what this post is about, but MMM just saved me $200 in homeowners insurance. My policy was coming due from Metlife; it had gone up about $35 for the same exact coverage. I tried to get additional discounts but all they could do for me was lower my payment by increasing my deductible to $2500 from $1000.

    So I did that, but then called GEICO as MMM has recommended in past posts. They insure our autos and scooter. With the discounts for dual coverage, they came out ahead–$200 better than what I was going to be charged initially and $160 better than my current rate. This blog is changing me … in a good way. This week, our satellite tv contract with Dish is up and it’s gone, too. I’ve already tested the (used) converter box for my analog tv and will be going to over-the-air tv supplemented with either netflix or hulu, much to my daughter’s disappointment. That’s another $25 in savings.

    Rambling now but just wanted to say thanks … and keep it up.

  • abc June 12, 2012, 11:01 am

    “But we can still reasonably estimate that my subcompact car is about 16.85/12.34 = 37% more dangerous than a full-size SUV.”

    Lets say I have a treatable condition, “I’m-scared-itis” with two possible treatment options:

    One is significantly cheaper but increases your risk of sudden death by 37%. The other one costs a premium but baseline risk is unaffected. Which would your doctor recommend?

    Additionally, you didn’t address that immutable law of physics, F=MA. I suspect that you realize that driving is a highly dangerous activity which is a major reason you limit the number of miles you and your family drive each year. That and it’s a lot cheaper and healthier to drive less of course.

    One last thing — I attempted to look at the actual NHTSA numbers you link to in order to see about rollover as opposed to auto-v-auto but the link was broken.

    • Mr. Money Mustache June 12, 2012, 4:28 pm

      If I were the doctor (which I AM, in this context), I’d force the patient to figure out what they were scared of.

      If it’s only “sudden death” with no concern for expected longevity or quality of life, I’d punch them in the face and tell them to go find a different doctor. I only accept patients with at least some ability to think in a logical fashion.

      As a side note, remember that large SUVs are not even the safest category. Midsized cars are. So the sudden-death-fearers should at LEAST be seeking out the Honda Accord. And with the 4-cylinder engine, that car is almost as efficient as a compact anyway. And obviously, those afraid of sudden death should NEVER be buying houses that require driving to work or making unnecessary shopping trips!

      Does a heart attack count as sudden death? Because if so, we need to go back to the doctor’s consultation room for some more face punching.

      Finally, F=MA and E=1/2mv^2 are not things for car buyers to go throwing around when shopping, pretending they know physics. There’s much more physics built into the NHTSA stats themselves, as they inherently incorporate energy dissipation, rollover risk, and even accident avoidance ability in their results. There’s no perfect way to tell how safe a car is, but those stats are the best we’ve got.

  • Alistair June 13, 2012, 2:56 am

    You could also add to the list, ‘not eating food that is 1 day past it’s display by date’

  • Franco June 26, 2012, 5:55 pm

    RE: The “Country vs. City” debate from up there in the middle of the comments.

    Who consumes more? I don’t know, but I bet that the people who did the study did not count the folks with no addresses who live out in the woods around here.

    I live in the country and consume very little. Our total utility bill is usually around $50 a month, even in the winter. Our total bills per month are about $1200 (family of five.)

    Quite a few folks in our rural area live like this. A lot of people have gardens and chickens and make their own stuff, or reuse old stuff instead of buying it new.

    But, I think TV has ruined a lot of country living. Kids who lived in the country in the old days probably used to know about country things by being around them all the time. Even if they were ignorant academically, they were healthy and strong and knew a lot about the natural world through experience and especially from chores.

    Now that television and the internet are everywhere, kids may live in the country surrounded by beauty and all sorts of productive ways to spend time outdoors – but instead, spend their time indoors playing Xbox, texting friends, updating Facebook, watching movies and eating food from a box. And they complain that there is “nothing to do” in their tiny rural town but smoke and get into trouble and long for the day when they can move into the city where all the action is.

    This is all while thousands of people who do live in cities far away spend a lot of money and effort to come to these little rural places to be closer to nature.

    And here I am spending time on the internet when I could be outside getting something done. I have a gate to finish.

  • Cheryl October 7, 2012, 6:12 pm

    It’s funny, the first thing that came to mind when I read “the big car always wins” wasn’t worries about my small car, but the memory of my Dad’s one and only car accident – he’d legally indicated a turn into the driveway, had slowed down at the driveway and had a women run her can into the back of his large ute. Not a scratch on the ute but the car badly damaged from impact to the underside of the tray.

    It’s not about what you drive, it’s how you drive it.

    We had a neighbour take the top off his finger with his woodworking tools, but he had a house full of hand made furniture to balance out one accident. (the finger was okay and he was back in the shed 4 weeks later) Didn’t stop the doomsayers at work sagely congratulating themselves now that their dire predictions had come true.

    I’m getting there with my bike – is the 40+km/h downhill rush worth the (miniscule) risk of falling off? Hell yeah!

    Do I like my son doing the same thing? Nu uh!

    That’s the only fear I’m trying to allow myself and like with everything else, we talk about it, manage the risks and let him go.

  • Martin January 20, 2013, 3:08 am

    The estimates in the article for fatality risk are way off and vary widely by vehicle.

    Looking just at driver fatality rate, small cars are more than twice as risky as a midsize SUV http://www.iihs.org/externaldata/srdata/docs/sr4605.pdf of course there is considerable variability between vehicles. (A Hyundai Accent is 10 times riskier to the driver than a Honda CR-V in the selected years!)

    Besides, rather than looking at expected life-shortening, should you look at loss of expected earnings?

    Take someone who earns $50k/year and will for 20 years. If they die in an accident today, they miss out on $1m in future earnings. Approximately 30k people died in the US last year in crashes, so there’s about a 1 in 1,000 chance, so the expected loss in future earnings would be $1,000 (might want to mulitply that by the number of passengers in your regular trip)

    If you drive a Scion xA the cost of your injuries is 60% higher than averag, so you can probably assume an expected risk of $1,600, whereas someone driving a Subaru Outback, for example, might expect the risk to be about $660 http://www.iihs.org/research/hldi/composite so even if the Outback costs $940 more per year in gas when you’re the only occupant, you balance that with reduced risk to future earnings. ANd that’s just looking at risk of death, to say nothing of serious injury.

    Also, small cars are even more risky in rural settings compared to other types of cars than in urban settings.

    Finally, newer car based/crossover SUVs with electronic stability control are much safer than the stats from 2004 you based your analysis on.

    • Martin January 20, 2013, 11:26 pm

      So I just realized I made a math error and your risk is 1 in 10,000 rather than 1 in 1,000.

      Still, that could leave an expected difference of a couple hundred $ a year between safer models and more dangerous models.

      • Mr. Money Mustache January 21, 2013, 8:41 am

        Aha.. but what is the cost of ownership difference between those models? If it’s a Scion xA vs. a Tahoe or even a Subaru Outback, you are probably still losing by buying the bigger car. Especially for if you focus on driving technique and minimizing quantity of miles driven, instead what the majority of buyers do: focusing on size and marketing campaigns, while commuting daily through snow with a cell phone propped on the neck.

        But I think expected life expectancy is a better way to measure the safety effects. Remember that financial independence increases the number of months of USEFUL life you get dramatically. Spend less on cars and driving = less mandatory work. More time to live, and more time to stay healthy, less stress. The numerical case in favor of spending less on cars, at least until you are financially independent, is incredibly clear!

        • Martin January 21, 2013, 3:16 pm

          I’m certainly not suggesting anyone go out and buy a Tahoe (the IIHS notes that you have diminishing safety returns above 4,000 lbs but become much more dangerous to others), but for a marginally higher cost ($100-$200/year), or even the same when you adjust for risk you can gain more safety with a slightly larger car, that is also less likely to be totaled in a given accident.

          My own digging into the research suggests that small-midsize crossovers, wagons and minivans are the safest overall fwhen you adjust for a number of factors such as age/sex of driver, urban vs rural driving, miles driven, etc.

  • Albert June 16, 2013, 4:02 pm

    I’ve only now read this post for the first time. From all MMM posts this one might be the one I agree with the most!

    The modern life in the developed world is extremely safe and I see no reason to worry myself with minute differences this or that lifestyle makes. I do all the same activities which MMM mentioned except power tools and motorbikes (lack of interest, not safety concerns). In addition I also regularly hike in the mountains in the summer and ski in the winter.

    This modern “afraid of their own shadows” phenomena sometimes drives me nuts. By avoiding just few basic things your chances of living a healthy life to age 75-80 are extremely high. In no particular order – smoking, drugs, too much alcohol, involvement in crime, drunk driving, not keeping fit.

  • garry burgess February 18, 2014, 7:22 pm

    And while you’re at it, you might look up the amazing stats and notice that countries that have no helmet laws for cycling, actually have a lot less head injuries, as hard as that might seem to swallow.

    A helmet will not protect you 1 iota if you are in a collision with a car. It’s only purpose is to protect you if you suddenly fall off your bike and land on your head. Yes, how often do people fall off their bike and land on their head?

    But it is sold to people that a small piece of plastic on your head will protect you from a car weighing several tons. Your best defence is to trust noone on the road – period.

    • Juan September 9, 2014, 10:45 am

      As a long time Longmont Cyclist myself, I’ve always enjoyed MMM’s post about cycling and getting around without a car. One thing I always cringe at though is when I see pictures or videos of him doing it without a helmet. I totally disagree with your comment about “…how often do people fall off their bike and land on their head?” Every time I’ve fallen, I’ve hit my head on the ground. I’ve broken my collarbone twice, and both times would have resulted in serious head injuries if I didn’t have a helmet on. I’ve thrown away half a dozen helmets in my racing and casual cycling life because of damage they received while protecting my head. Not wearing a helmet because it “will not protect you 1 iota if you are in a collision with a car” is a foolish argument. Sustaining a head injury that can possibly be prevented by wearing a helmet is not what I consider very Mustachian.

      • Mr. Money Mustache September 9, 2014, 4:43 pm

        Welcome, Juan!

        If you read through the rest of these comments (226 of them so far), you’ll see some other discussion on helmets as well. The bottom line is that I think they are a fine idea and others should use them as they see fit. I wear a helmet myself for mountain biking, and all cycling in traffic, like when I ride to Boulder along the Diagonal Highway. Just not too often on the casual streets and bikepaths of Longmont.

        But I’m also a pretty safe rider – I have never fallen off my bike while riding on a road or bike path. Doesn’t mean it won’t ever happen, but after 33 years of daily riding and collecting data, I’ve come to realize that some people are more prone to crashing bikes than others.

        Man, I just saw a woman totally wipe out and get a nasty knee and elbow scrape last week on my own street. It was a dry, sunny day with no traffic in sight. It amazed me, because I didn’t know bike crashes were even possible in that situation.

        People with lower skill need to suit up a little more and take it easy, just as I need to wear my full getup and take it easy on the snowboard – because I’m simply less skilled than the true Colorado riders who have been doing it all their lives.

      • Frozzie September 9, 2014, 6:02 pm

        wearing a helmet is fine as long as you have a choice (not so much in Australia where I live with mandatory helmet laws). Problem with helmets is they give a false sense of securityresulting in riskier behavior. Helmets are mostly designed for a 25km/h shock absorption and can actually be a cause of greater injury because of the added weight and therefore additional velocity in case of an accident. Every time I hear about helmets, I think about Europe … A helmet will protect you in some cases, better cycling infrastructure will always be a better option.

      • CheerfulAdventurer September 29, 2014, 3:33 am


        I haven’t read all the helmet comments (because I already know the arguments from many other sources), but my personal experience is:

        beyond a fair amount of miles you somehow feel the risk level either wearing a helmet or not, and in traffic you adjust your momentary riding style and decisions to that (departing from home some minutes earlier or later, crossing a yellow light, engage or not in less secure situations etc.). I’m simply more CARELESS if I have my helmet on! And I can’t help that. I guess that so do drivers (at least the experienced) who see my head. Man, I think it’s more risky but leads to more conscious, even more responsible road transportation. And avoiding an accident this way – instead of eliminating the single most serious consequence of it – saves you and your fellow road users time, material loss, arguments, stress, police, insurance arrangements etc. EVEN if your head would have remained perfectly intact.

  • Ken February 18, 2014, 8:31 pm

    Curious why don’t you have a 6 month liquid case emergency fund. Ironically this month I just finished my $30K 6 month emergency fund. But I’m still $184K in debt from dental school. I was planning to pay down my debt early when I ge t to that last $30K just blow it out with the savings.
    Your thoughts?
    Love all you do, changed my life!

  • CheerfulAdventurer September 29, 2014, 3:18 am

    “there are only two risks in modern life that are significant enough to get me a little scared:

    1. the risk of wasting my life by not living it to its fullest
    2. the risk of ruining my own health at an early age, possibly limiting my ability to accomplish #1”

    Which leaves me with an ever-unanswerable dilemma. If I strive beyond measure to live my life to its fullest, I find myself exhausted, thus more sensible to diseases/accidents, or if not that, at least speeding up the ageing of my body, and do you know what: not happy at all. On the other end, if I carefully do literally everything to preserve my health, then I will definitely not have any time/attention/life power left to engage in anything. Tough balance finding for every single day of my life! :-)

  • NT October 8, 2014, 3:29 pm

    The argument I hear from the wife is “that 1.5 month difference in life expectancy is all fine and good for you, but what about your child? He rides in the car with you also!” So the question is would I be willing to sacrifice 1.5 months of life expectancy from my child just to save money and retire two years early?

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 8, 2014, 8:16 pm

      Yes, because by retiring earlier, living close to work, and other things described on this blog, you end up needing to drive your kids around FAR less. My son probably averages less than 2 short car rides per month these days!

      Plus, by allowing him to ride bikes more often, he also extends his own life.

      There is just no losing in this situation – it’s good news all around.

      • David November 17, 2014, 2:30 pm

        I agree that a 1.5 month reduction in life expectancy is a worthwhile trade off for the financial gain, especially since the last 1.5 months of my life is likely to be low in qualify of life. But I am having a hard time understanding that that is really what is at stake. Accepting your figures and your math, I understand that on average people will extend their lives by only 1.5 months by driving a safer car. But in real life, as applied to individuals, the risk is that tomorrow, or the next day, I will lose the entire rest of my life as a result of driving in a smaller car. I am not balancing 1.5 months certain loss against the certain financial cost, I am balancing the possible loss of,in my case, 30 years or more of life, against certain financial cost. The possible cost for children in the car is far greater. Your response to NT about living closer to work, retiring early, etc. doesn’t answer this, because you can do all those things, and still do them in a safer car. So, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to pay for the bigger car, especially if one is like me, a worrier, and the unease that would come from driving a small car would affect my quality of life. (P.S. I live .7 miles from my office, and walk or bike to work everyday, plus ride an additional 1.5 hours per day seven months of the year).

  • Rollie November 15, 2014, 3:05 pm

    [still hanging on]

    Don’t forget Saddam Hussein, terrorism, ISIS, Russia, Korea, Iran, Libya, immigrants, and crime. Always felt pretty damn safe from all those too.

  • rabidbilly December 10, 2014, 12:30 pm

    You think that ninnies in the ordinary world have gone safety-mad…

    I’m 60 and have been in the dangerous stuff business for 45 years, since back when I could hop into my 1962 Corvair and drive down to Biscayne Chemical and get whatever my little heart desired for a few bucks. The list of things I did in fact buy for my lab included loads of concentrated sulfuric acid, bromine, sodium metal, dry ether, and anhydrous aluminum chloride. All sold freely to a barely-driving-age kid with no questions about ID. And I lived to tell.

    Today I ordered two chemicals online. A half-kilogram each of magnesium nitrate and potassium carbonate. Anyone notice anything familiar? That last one is known to some as “baking powder”.

    An email message came to me after the order. I would have to expect a delay. Both chemicals were not shippable 2nd day air. Because they are “hazardous”, both had to go ground. And, as such, each carried an additional $30 hazardous handling surcharge.

    An order that would have cost me well under $40 back in Reasonable Times, would come to almost $400, $60 of which (and probably implicitly more) would be attributable to their being “hazardous”.

    Baking powder. Hazardous.

    I guess I better get started trying to throw up 60 years worth of baked goods, and right quick.

    And don’t get me started on how the advent of the MSDS has made messing with stuff in bottles far more dangerous than it was back when we relied on RTFL (Reading The F***ing Labels).

  • Rula Mazigi December 27, 2014, 4:16 pm

    Hello Sir,

    I was just turned onto your site two days ago and haven’t been able to stop reading. This is my first comment, and I write it here because this post is about fear, which I feel, is the underlying cause of the ‘human condition’ and has brought us to the misery of the present moment, which is nothing more than the culmination of 40,000 years of repeating our history. A repetition if you will, of fear-based reactions to what ‘was’ and what ‘might be’. I see all of this with great clarity – intellectually. In fact, I blog about it (not for readership, but for keeping my sanity – to trick myself into believing that I’m alive). But have I changed? Am I like you, fearless? I am not.

    I’m a single mother of two with a very good income due to family business. I have wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars I am sure, and could have retired with a plan like yours over 10 years ago or more (I am 38). I want to change. Everything. I want to stop living in fear, and it seems to me that the more one PERCEIVES one has (what an illusion it is that man has allowed himself to indulge in – not many of us have woken up as Neo did, but I do realize that it’s critical – imperative – that we do, and as a collective species in order to keep Nature from selecting us out as a species. What a miserable species we allowed ourselves to become haha)

    But I digress. The more one IMAGINES one has, the more one IMAGINES one can lose. Therefore, what one doesn’t actually have to begin with (ie: SECURITY – Flesh and blood Immortality) is a hold of fear which one tries to fill with “things” (including thoughts) – one tries to consume life, to buy security – but LIVING can’t be bought, and Security doesn’t exist, not at least, as we imagine it should exist. Happiness is not a thing that you can barter. Happiness is what you have discovered by peeling away what is NOT HAPPINESS.

    I know, again intellectually, that I can do what you have done in the next 10 years if I remain at my current job. By then my children will be 17 and 15. The life I’m living now makes me nauseous…the excess, the waste, the misguided faith in ‘things’ which I see my children (especially my son) attach themselves to. The glazed eyes of TV and video game watchers – they aren’t human beings in those moments.

    Still, I’m afraid to change. Don’t you think it’s strange Sir? Why is it that one can see so clearly what is wrong, and see one’s self so clearly repeating the history of a thousand rotten ages, and still fear keeps her from acting. Fear keeps her in her cycle of more fear (all imagined, none of it happening now hahaha) which leads to further paralysis and waste and consumption and then…terror…and the cycle perpetuates itself in this manner. That’s not Living is it Sir?

    I don’t suppose I really have any questions. But I wanted to say thank you. The only way to become fearless is to stop giving fearful thoughts any mind – any importance. Soon, I believe, they will disappear for lack of any energy source. I’m so happy to see someone like you. I have seen so many comments in every day life and on blogs and here too, where people are bitter and hateful because others found the secret to joy and happiness through action – through listening carefully and doing what is actually sane. But I don’t feel that way. I feel a great sense of relief that it’s possible. That what I know is possible IS POSSIBLE. So thank you. That’s all. Thanks.

  • Patrick December 31, 2014, 8:27 am

    MMM advice still applies even in the case of car accidents – take the bike trails as often as possible, and bus until you can move and get rid of your commute and thus driving exposure.

  • Peter V March 6, 2015, 12:45 pm

    Hi MMM. Long time reader, first time commenter. Your math is actually less favorable than reality.

    “I’ve got at best 60 driving years left in my life, so over a lifetime my chance of survival is (99.993^60), or 99.58%. In other words, driving causes an expected 0.42% reduction in my lifespan. 0.42% of 60 years is about 4 months.”

    This is assuming the 0.42% chance of dying in a car accident is going to happen today, and shorten your life by 60 years. But the chance is actually spread out over your life. If you die in a car accident in your 59th year, then you only lose one year of your life. So I believe your life is only shortened by 2 months by driving the small car. Good news for sure!

  • Patrick May 4, 2015, 6:45 am

    I am a huge fan of MMM philosophy and approach! However, I am struggling to understand the math behind not buying the safest car possible – not unusual – it takes me a while to figure stuff out. Would appreciate further understanding.

    So if I look at average ages of heart attack versus a car accident I calculate that each year that more years of life are lost to auto accidents than heart attacks (because heart attacks, on average occur later)

    Road accidents

    average age expected age years lost per person
    12 70 58
    total 450,370

    Heart disease

    average age expected age years lost per person
    70 75 5
    total 325,445


    So accidents take more time numerically. But that isn’t the point – it’s a life cut short or decades of pain and suffering that we seek to avoid in selecting safe cars – and this helps d the market place. If one buys a car based on safety features (even used ones) it seems it pushes innovation and then floats down to standard vehicles. Luckily fancy pants people don’t like used cars so plenty of very safe cars formerly fancy cars are available. And hybrids typically have good safety ratings because of the extra weight and good mileage despite lugging around air bags and such. Seems like their are a lot of safe vehicles out there for low prices – but admittedly worse fuel economy. But the very small cars seem to do poorly in both single and multiple vehicle crashes so are probably best suited for urban environments – unless I am missing some key point here.

    • Patrick June 20, 2015, 7:44 am

      Ahh, solve the problem with action not a purchase. I looked into this more and by not driving during particularly accident prone hours, selecting defensive driving approaches and maintaining the vehicle, accident rates drop way more than any feature on a car you can purchase. I think I am starting to get it. This blog is excellent – I am slowly understanding it.

      MMM is correct again!

      Must re-read all articles!

  • Billy May 7, 2015, 8:53 am

    I think your big car/small car saving calculations are WAY off. The $64,000 savings is probably close, but, as you mentioned, it ignores many other expenses, like insurance, depreciation, and maintenance. But the big error, IMO, is your time needed to save $64,000. You estimated two years, worst case. I don’t know of many people who actually SAVE $32,000 per year. I’d say that time frame, for most people, is more on the order of a decade or more.

    Good article.

  • Ian August 24, 2015, 2:26 pm

    To be clear, I’m generally in support of the viewpoint put forth in this and most other MMM articles. Modern societies focus on safety can be overbearing and loses sight of reality in many cases. Your arguments in regards to small cars and bikes are totally reasonable and I could not agree more. Where you lose me is your brief mention of riding a motorcycle. An activity, by the way, which you never got around to justifying by the numbers. The reason I bring that up is because of some anecdotal experience I have in Emergency Departments, and now some hard facts I looked up to see if there was any substance behind my suspicion. According to the National Highway Safety and Traffic Administration, the fatality rate for motorcyclists is 22.92 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles driven. For those paying attention, that is a full 23 times higher than the fatality rate in a car. You can talk about how the modern obsession with safety is limiting, but at times the numbers speak for themselves. And in this case they speak clearly: Motorcycles (Murdercycles) are a bad fucking idea.

  • Felipe January 1, 2016, 3:47 pm

    I love this article. I did, however, notice an error:

    “About one fatality per hundred million vehicle miles driven.”

    I believe it is thousand, not million.

  • Toe March 4, 2016, 5:36 am

    So I’m really really late to this party, but I wanted to chime in if anyone is still listening. If you’ve ever studied the enneagram, (which is basically the ancient study of 9 different personality types and how they are connected), you’d know that out of nine different types, over half of the ENTIRE human population are type 6. Which means their basic earthly desire is security and support. They are often afraid of new things, filled with anxiety or fear, and have difficulty trusting, and want safety in their environment. Knowing all of this, your article makes perfect sense to me. With half of the population looking for security and safety in their surroundings, you have a lot of people questioning your confident (probably type 8) manner. :)

  • Brendan O'Connor June 29, 2016, 9:28 am

    I used to be a health and safety advisor and my biggest roadblock was teaching people the difference between hazard and risk. People always focus on the hazard because that is the easy half of the equation. I suppose it’s the old cave dweller theory again: “There’s a lion it can eat me. Run” Rather than “there’s a lion and not a lioness and it’s lying down under a tree. So I can probably sneak past undetected.”

  • Alicia January 11, 2017, 6:02 pm

    Ok MMM, I love you and your blog and I try to accept most of your stuff as probably a good idea even if I don’t do the thing personally. But I need some help on this one. I love love love my bike, but I live in a Los Angeles suburb (I know I should move). I’m terrified of riding my bike here and this is a person that cycled competitively in college! Any ideas on how to not get myself killed in a place where I hear people at my office casually say “I hate bicycles! Don’t they know I’m not watching for them [on the road]!” Any Mustacians bike in LA?

    • Mr. Money Mustache January 17, 2017, 10:09 am

      Yes! Thousands of Mustachians bike in LA, and it’s really the only good way to get around there. Cars are the problem!

      • Dan M January 17, 2017, 12:47 pm

        As one of those thousands, I second Mr. Money’s statement. LA has some of the most bike-friendly weather imaginable, and if more people biked as they should the city would be FAR better for it. It’s usually as fast as driving for moderate distance trips, once you factor in the ease of parking a bike and the total lack of traffic jams. And it’s a great way to explore the city.

        I bike my daughter to daycare regularly and commute to work and I rarely have issues with cars. Use bright front and rear lights, be safe and predictable, find the most bike-friendly routes, and always assume that drivers are angry and distracted, which is often the case here. If you do those things I don’t think it’s particularly dangerous compared with biking anywhere else.

      • Jim H January 17, 2017, 7:47 pm

        The head coach of the LA rams is a bicycle commuter. This article says LA has more paved bike lanes than any other city in the country.


  • FMaz January 22, 2017, 7:38 pm

    First, I fully agree with the generality of the article, but part of the math is wrong:

    “In other words, driving causes an expected 0.42% reduction in my lifespan. 0.42% of 60 years is about 4 months.”

    No. It’s 0.42% of chances if dying from a car crash, not a reduction of your lifespan.

    Therefore, doing 0.42% of 60 years makes little sense.

    True the more you drive, the more chances you have of dying, but unless you are gona make an argument about the unhealthy aspect of sitting down for hours in a car in lieu of being physically active, YOUR lifespan is not getting reduced from driving per say.

  • Michael February 19, 2017, 6:13 pm

    In calculating the risk analysis of an activity. Morbidity must be considered. When car companies started using seatbelts, more people survived accidents but there also were more paraplegics and other injuries that would be moot had they not survived.

  • anonymousengineer555 February 25, 2017, 3:47 pm

    This post could probably go anywhere there is the argument about SUVs and safety during collisions, so ill just share it here. Basically IIHS crash testing SUV/Trucks into cars, and recent design regulations have brought the car driver outcome closer to par with the truck.

  • Douglas Miller June 9, 2017, 11:24 am

    I have been a serious cyclist for about 30 years including 10 years of racing and coaching. I have seen some of my commuter friends who also were Racers get hit and hurt badly. Maybe that is just bad luck and maybe they’re not normal statistics but it’s too many people too close to me who are excellent that got hurt.

    If you can cycle on a relatively safe route that is great. Do it. If you cannot then you should reconsider it only takes one Bad Axe to make all of your cycling not worth it.

    The problem is commuting is we don’t necessarily get to choose the same kind of root that we would with recreational riding.

  • Brooks November 26, 2018, 8:15 pm

    So I know this isn’t the main point of the article (which I think is great by the way), but I wanted to comment on the driving risk calculation because it’s off by a few orders of magnitude. An engineer has to be an engineer, so I apologize in advance!

    If we assume that the probability of dying in an accident for each mile driven is a constant as suggested by the provided table, then the probability you will die after an arbitrary number of miles x can be represented by an exponential function.

    Chance = 1 – exp(-Rx)

    Where R is the constant risk given in the table, in units of probably/mile.

    For a compact car R = 0.1776/100,000 = 1.78e-6, so driving 7,000miles in a year would corespond to a 1.24% chance of a fatal accident. Meanwhile a midsize car would bring this number down to about 0.8%. This is much much larger than the 0.007% given in the article!

    Over 60 years these numbers become 52.6% and 38.3%. That’s a huge difference compared to the original article! Granted this is an oversimplification, ignoring actually driving amounts, skill, and other health issues that might get you first. Despite this I thought people might be interested in what a more responsible estimate of the risks might be!

    • Mr. Money Mustache November 29, 2018, 3:08 pm

      Hi Brooks – I think you might have confused the graphical chart in this article (which is based on per 100,000 VEHICLES), with the fatality rate per mile (1 in 100 million MILES), which I cited in the previous paragraph.

      If you re-run your calculations with R = 17.76 / 100,000 / ~15,000 miles per year per vehicle, you get more reasonable figures.

      And it makes sense. If your calculations were right, we would have well over 2% of the US population (6.6 million people) killed by cars each year because we drive way more than 7000 miles each. Instead, the real number is in the 30,000 range.

  • John G. August 15, 2019, 7:50 pm

    Just a comment I could not help but respond. I was hit by a car while riding a bike and was in a coma. 21 days in the hospital and lucky to be alive. Folks if you are out there, wear a helmet, a good one, and make sure it fits. I did and I would not be writing this if I didn’t.

  • Mike April 13, 2020, 11:47 pm

    MMM, you should do a rehash of this article in light of the hysteria surrounding COVID19. That’d be great!

  • Stephen A. Schullo June 23, 2020, 10:13 am

    Hi MMM,
    I brought this topic up again because of another safety topic that is a very expensive illusion, which I am sure you and all of your followers know intimately. Annuity products. These products are sold by the billions (especially in my profession: public k12 teachers) with no end in sight because the sales force creates a very seductive and convincing safety illusion from the big bad stock market. Insurance against investment loss via annuities only helps the insurance company and the sales force with lucrative commissions. The returns are hideous, and an insult to smart and educated people who think that never losing money in the stock market is beneficial.

    We all have insurance to cover our auto, home, earthquake here in CA, long term care and I happily pay for those premiums. But I never buy insurance to protect my money from the stock market losses.


  • Angie August 20, 2021, 11:58 am

    Love the article and I am in full agreement that ‘not taking the risk to make the most out of life’ is one of the biggest risks of all.

    But just to play Devil’s advocate on the +1.5 month life expectancy argument.

    The way I’ve always thought about expected values are that they’re more of an ‘average over a lot of iterations.’ For example, if you play Poker, you can say my “Expected Value” for this play is +$5 or something. You might not get the outcome you want this one time, but over many iterations, you’d converge to that $5 (if you take out the irrationality of Poker and just assume everyone plays Game Theory Optimal). So in that sense, something that yields a higher expected value is always a great move since there’s tons of iterations where the law of large numbers is on your side.

    So with that, “If I increase my chance of dying by 37%, I subtract another 1.5 months from my expected lifetime” seems a bit off to me, because life is a one-iteration game (in my personal opinion, but depends on what you believe in though). This means, let’s say you’re unlucky for some reason and get into an accident, you either die or you don’t. Fatalities is a binary option, and it’s hard to peg an average where the sample size for your own life is 1.

    In other words: averages may or may not be the right tool to use for games where the upside is limited (i.e. enjoyment of transport) and the downside is extremely negative (i.e. death).

    I guess the way I think about these extreme cases are more in line with “Black Swan” theory in Nassim Taleb’s Antifragile book.

    For me personally, I’d look at the 37% of dying not in the lens of +/- 1.5 months in expected value, but I’d look at it in more of a Bayesian sense. For example, I’m generally not going to get in an accident regardless of what I drive, but *given* I’m in an accident, I’m 37% more likely to survive.

    That said though, I feel like with the driving conversation it’s kind of like just drive whatever you want because the chances of a fatal accident is quite low to begin with, so the bayesian probabilities aren’t very relevant.


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