Dread risk, September 11, and fatal traffic accidents

Psychol Sci. 2004 Apr;15(4):286-7. doi: 10.1111/j.0956-7976.2004.00668.x.


People tend to fear dread risks, that is, low-probability, high-consequence events, such as the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. If Americans avoided the dread risk of flying after the attack and instead drove some of the unflown miles, one would expect an increase in traffic fatalities. This hypothesis was tested by analyzing data from the U.S. Department of Transportation for the 3 months following September 11. The analysis suggests that the number of Americans who lost their lives on the road by avoiding the risk of flying was higher than the total number of passengers killed on the four fatal flights. I conclude that informing the public about psychological research concerning dread risks could possibly save lives.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic*
  • Automobile Driving*
  • Fear*
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Terrorism / psychology*
  • Travel