Jul 182011

With so much media attention focused on drug violence in Mexico, many potential tourists and tour operators are canceling planned trips to Mexico. Are such decisions rational? The analysis below indicates that travel to Mexico is considerably safer than risking vehicle traffic in the USA.

The US State Department has issued numerous travel advisories concerning visits to Mexico. As we discussed in a previous post —Which parts of Mexico are currently subject to US travel advisories?— the advisories focus on specific areas of Mexico. Unfortunately, many potential tourists overlook the geographic specificity and get the impression that all parts of Mexico are dangerous. Previous posts clearly indicate that levels of drug war violence vary enormously from place to place in Mexico.

This post investigates the chances of being a fatal victim of drug violence in various places in Mexico and compares these with the chances of being a fatal victim of a traffic accident in the USA. The US Department of Commerce estimates that about 19 million US citizens visit Mexico each year. According to MSNBC, in 2010 at least 106 Americans were killed in Mexico as a result of drug violence. Dividing the 19 million visits by the 106 deaths suggests that the chance of a visitor being killed on a trip to Mexico in 2010 was about 1 in 179,000. These are good odds, much better than the annual chance of being killed in a US traffic accident which is about 9,000 to 1. In other words, the chances of dying in a US traffic accident are roughly 20 times greater than being killed as a consequence of drug violence while visiting  Mexico. (As an aside, the annual chances of being killed in a Mexican traffic accident are about 1 in 4,800.)

Chance of a visitor being killed in drug violence in MexicoRelative danger of death in a road accident in the USA
MEXICO (whole country)1 in 179,00020 times greater
Ciudad Juárez1 in 11,4001.3 times greater
State of Chihuahua1 in 18,5002.1 times greater
Culiacán1 in 25,0002.8 times greater
Mazatlán1 in 47,0005.2 times greater
Tijuana1 in 52,0005.7 times greater
Monterrey1 in 210,00023 times greater
Puerto Vallarta1 in 288,00032 times greater
Chapala1 in 299,00033 times greater
Cancún1 in 360,00040 times greater
State of Jalisco1 in 378,00042 times greater
Oaxaca City1 in 427,00048 times greater
Guadalajara1 in 569,00063 times greater
Mexico City1 in 750,00083 times greater
State of Yucatán1 in 4,151,000460 times greater
Puebla City1 in 6,572,000730 times greater

Some areas of Mexico experience much more drug violence than others. For example drug violence deaths in Ciudad Juárez are 16 times greater than the Mexico national average. Consequently, the chance of an American visitor getting killed in drug violence in Ciudad Juárez is about 11,400 to one, still safer than risking traffic in the USA. The table shows the risks for a range of Mexican locations and compares them to the risks of US traffic. In the city of Puebla the risk is one in 6.6 million compared to one in 750,000 for Mexico City, one in 570,000 for Guadalajara, one in 360,000 for Cancún, about one in 300,000 for Chapala and Puerto Vallarta, and about one in 50,000 for Tijuana and Mazatlán.

These results indicate that the chance of a visitor being killed by drug violence in Mexico is extremely unlikely, far less likely than the risk of being killed in a US traffic accident. For example, a visit to Chapala is 33 times safer than risking US traffic for a year, while Mexico City is 83 times safer. Though this analysis focuses on the travel of US tourists to Mexico, the results are equally relevant for visitors from other countries.

  7 Responses to “Drug violence: is it safe to travel to Mexico?”

  1. Good for you, Dr. Rhoda, for writing this. I have been writing on similar lines for most of my life, but especially in the last few years. I did an analysis that showed the chances of a tourist being killed in Meixco in 2010 was a little bit higher than that of being struck by lightning. Alas, in 2009, it was a little bit less. So I guess a naysayer could latch onto that and say that things have gotten worse! Anayway, keep it up. Appreciate your posts and put a link from my site to this blog. http://www.mexicomike.com/safety/safety-UsStateDepartment.html

  2. It is obvious that whomever wrote up the analysis never took a course in statistics. It is an apples-to-oranges comparison.The odds of being killed in a traffic accident in the US is measured over a one-year period of exposure. In other words, if a person lived is the US for an entire year, the odds of being killed in a traffic accident is 1 in 9,000, using the rate implied by the author. However the 19 million visits were for much less than a year. Assuming the average stay by a visitor to Mexico was one week, then the odds proposed by the author of 1 in 179,000 need to be divided by 52 weeks to get an annual rate. The leaves us with odds of 1 in 3,443 of an American being killed on a trip to Mexico. That is, an American is 2.5 times more likely to be killed in Mexico than die in a US traffic accident.

  3. Sorry to be the one to point this out, but your statistical analysis is meaningless. Apples and oranges. You’re comparing the death rate PER VISIT to Mexico (how long is the average visit? 3 days or less?) to the death rate for a person who puts in 1 full year of driving on US roads.

    For illustration, let’s say for example the average visit is 3 days. 19 million visits x 3 days/visit = 57 million visitor days. Equivalently, 156,164 visitor years. 106 deaths nationally, so the death rate for a visitor to Mexico, normalized to a full year of exposure, is actually 1 in 1473. Meaning, the relative danger of death in a road accident in the USA is only 0.16 that of dying from drug violence in Mexico, assuming an average visit of 3 days.

    That doesn’t totally blow the premise of your article out of the water though. It still leaves Puebla and the Yucatan looking pretty good.

  4. Dr. Rhoda writes… “I agee 100% with the comments. Our analysis clearly states we are comparing the “annual” chance of being killed in a US traffic accident with chance of being killed by drug violence during a “visit” to Mexico. Yes it is “apples to oranges” but still a valid and interesting comparison. While there are many one and three day visits to Mexico, many Americans are on “visits” of 6 to 12 months.

  5. I am backpacking in Mexico right now and have to say that I have not been exposed to any danger at all. Currently I am staying in the Oasis Hostel in Puerto Vallarta and feel very safe here. It’s a shame that the media promotes such a bad pictuer of Mexico. I can only strongly encourage everybody to come and visit this amazing country!

  6. I’ve been to Mexico several times on my motorcycle. It’s a beautiful country to explore. Statistics aside, cross the border early in the morning and ride on south. Border towns are no place to hang out. As a side note, I’m more scared of driving in the USA than driving in Mexico!

  7. I live in El Paso and a couple of years ago did a statistical estimation of the likelihood of being killed during a one-hour visit to Cd. Juarez. Based upon the estimated population and known number of homicides occurring then, I found that the chances were one in 8.7 million per hour in CJ. This assumes the homicides are entirely random. If one is not involved in drugs, by some estimates 90% of the danger disappears. Then, the odds per hour are one in 87 million. The number of homicides increased in 2009 and 2010 but appear to have fallen this year. So, perhaps my estimates are in the ballpark once again.

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