As Americans open their bars and restaurants this Thanksgiving, travellers worldwide must watch their kilojoules and their calories, lest they take a fatal impact on the roads of Mexico or Kenya or Malaysia.
According to new analysis released Tuesday by the aviation safety watchdog, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), America must save 9,200 lives each year on Thanksgiving to avoid casualties.
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As it stands, nine holiday weekends and four extended weekends before Thanksgiving have set a record 38 fatalities with an average of 272 lives lost per year.
“The one thing that most stings is that you’re as likely to die from Thanksgiving-related causes as from terrorism,” said Sean Cassidy, IATA’s assistant director of safety for operations. “Every Thanksgiving lives are being taken from families.”
The total number of fatalities has doubled in the past decade. In 1999, IATA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated 3,200 died over the holiday period, while from 2004 to 2016, there were 8,500 deaths, and the total expected fatalities in 2018 will be about 8,500.
Worldwide, the sobering death toll includes 1,600 flight passengers, 130 pilots, 50 maintenance crew, 2,600 flight crew and 27,200 other aviation workers.
And it extends beyond the four US states. In Europe, which accounts for half of the fatalities, there were 49 deaths at European airfields in 2017, and 62 fatal incidents affecting passengers and crew occurred over the past decade in Europe.
Between 1989 and 1993, November and December represent the high-risk period for aviation accidents worldwide. But while the risk is considered low this year, other factors still remain.
Cassidy said that wildfires, rain and some parts of the world still have freeze weather making travel particularly dangerous. In Mexico and across America, drivers are being warned not to speed and to “drive sober.”
“We want to repeat the advice we gave people in the US, which is slow down, pay attention and drive safely,” he said.
IATA is lobbying for a holiday improvement package which could see electric, self-driving cars on the roads by 2022. The plan would also see new, safety-focused procedures put in place. But a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which reviewed the IATA study and publicly shared it, says that IATA has not made a strong enough push to apply these fixes overseas.
“American authorities and the airlines did not carry out a comprehensive analysis of the major causes of jet-engine disasters, but rather focused narrowly on investigations and offsetting limitations around communication protocols and procedures,” it reads.
There are proposed reforms, but Cassidy says that until a government agency with reliable data backs up the companies’ initiatives, they need help from regulators.
“We are faced with a problem where we are dealing with the transportation equivalent of a red light intersection. You are not mandated to yield to emergency vehicles that are coming. But that is exactly the problem with aviation today: there are a lot of red lights and people don’t look twice before they start hitting the gas.”
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Cassidy says that if the IATA reforms are not put in place, the 24,000 deaths a year that occur over four weeks on the roads of Mexico could become 75,000 deaths or more, by 2030.
“That’s pretty scary.”