Which is deadlier? COVID-19 or cars?

As I write this in early July on the edge of London, my facebook and twitter timelime are full of doom and gloom, how the lockdown is being eased too quickly, how the schools and the  pubs should remain closed forever, and we shouldn’t ever go to the shops, the theatre, or even think about going to a beach on holiday. I thought I’d post my thoughts as a statistical exercise, and why the COVID risk for me is about the same as my day to day risk of driving a car.

In England and Wales in the last week that data are available (19th June) there were very few deaths of people in my age group (40-44): 105 deaths of which 6 were COVID-19 related. This is 6 deaths out of 4,000,000 people, so even extrapolating to 300 deaths a year, there is almost a one in 10,000 chance of any individual my age dying from COVID-19. This data was from some time ago, and as an estimate the death rates are halving every 16.87 days, probably this is closer to one in 20,000 by now.

There is a possibility of getting infected from COVID-19 and getting seriously ill without dying- from this report the “hospitalisation rate was at 2.55 per 100,000 in week 25”, or about 1 in 1000 chances per year. This isn’t broken down by age, but a graph indicates that it is much lower for for younger people. Let’s say that I therefore have a one in 2000 chance of getting hospitalised from COVID if the infection rates remain as they are (and they are decreasing)….

So those are my risks! 1 in 2000 or less of going to hospital, one in 20000 of death. As a comparison, I have a similar chance of dying in a car crash, as the statistics show I have approximately a one in 35000 chance of dying in a car accident, and a one in 2500 chance of injury…. For me currently, COVID-19 is about as risky as cars are.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t even *think* about getting in a car. It’s just such a natural part of life, it seems safe. Should we ban cars? On this risk-based evidence, why are we locking down people due to Corona but encouraging them to drive? I think this is where people’s natural fear of the unknown overwhelms any empirical realities.

Should we ease the lockdown? Easings over the last month or so have not materially affected the general progress: the number of people infected and the new cases each day continue to decay. Another set of easements are coming this weekend (4th July), and if there is a “second wave”, I suspect this is not something that will happen immediately. There is a balance in life between staying entirely safe, and getting on with our lives- which yes, might include a drink at your local. If we do see a rise in cases, I hope we will see local lockdowns, or a return to national lockdowns. At least whilst the case levels are small, even a rapid rise in infections should lead to a low number of case: my death risk calculations would not be far out. The rate of decline of national infections will become less steep, but hopefully still decline.

There is also the question about whether my actions have effect others: I think that the reason that we had the lockdown was to flatten the curve, and not to overwhelm the NHS. I can’t see a danger of anything I do materially effecting anyone else. If I choose to go to a pub knowing I might get infected, and everyone else there does too, then is their a moral problem?

Let’s be realistic about the risk. Parents are paranoid about their children (who are mostly bulletproof to COVID) returning to school, yet don’t think twice about taking them to the supermarket in a car (much higher risk, probably), or indeed missing education and presumably having worse outcomes in life.The most important thing is to limit the number of people we have close contact with- and if we do this, the pandemic will surely die out.

Important note: Note that my calculations are personal for me, about the median UK age. If you are, say, under 50, they’re likely to be similar. If you are over 50, your risk will be much higher. If you have health problems, etc, then take your doctor’s advice and don’t go out. I’m really sorry for those that do, and those that have already been infected and lost people; but for a lot of people, the risk is becoming increasingly low.

What will I do: I’m going to continue to do the easy things- wash my hands, not gather in large areas, avoid crowds wherever possible, try to avoid travelling by train or bus – or anywhere- wherever possible. I get my shopping delivered (why would you not, Sainsbury’s is often a zoo!), and am fortunate not to have to physically go to work. I’ll obey the law-  but I really feel there’s grounds for optimism now and that it’s time to start looking hard at the numbers, and returning to normal- at least for the under 50s!



ONS Data:



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