Here's Why Elevators Are Safer Than Escalators

Don't believe everything you see in horror movies.

Elevator plunges are such a common trope in horror movies that many people are convinced that setting foot in one is tantamount to signing your own death warrant. However, the odds you'll actually be injured in an elevator are relatively slim. In fact, if you're going to be injured moving between floors, an escalator is likely to be the culprit.

According to a study published in the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine, there are approximately 10,000 escalator injuries that take place on the 35,000 escalators in the United States each year. And while there are 900,000 elevators in the United States, the total number of elevator injuries hovers around 7,000. So, what keeps elevators safer? The lack of human error.

Elevators go up and down using a tried-and-true pulley-and-motor system on the outside of the elevator. This means there's little opportunity for human error to interfere with its operation. While over-capacity elevators and mechanical failings can present a danger, it's unlikely that your choice of clothing or the weather will play any role in your injury risk.

On escalators, however, it's a different story. Since humans come into direct contact with an escalator's moving parts, it's much easier to become accidentally injured as a result. Clothing often gets accidentally sucked into an escalator's comb plate, putting passengers at risk for falls, strangulation, or even death. Similarly, a pair of wet shoes on an elevator can significantly increase your risk of slipping.

While most modern escalators are now made of metal, the risks on old-fashioned wooden escalators are even greater. In fact, in 1987, 31 people were killed when a wooden escalator in the London King's Cross-St. Pancras station caught fire. It was determined that a stray match had ignited the lubricant used to keep the steps moving freely. The wooden steps had essentially become kindling.

While escalator and elevator injuries are certainly terrifying, the overall odds you'll actually be in one remain pretty small. In fact, according to research published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, stairs are the most frequent offender behind injuries incurred while traveling between floors. In a 23-year period, 24,760,843 people were injured on the stairs–that's an average of 1,076,558 every single year. So, keep those shoes dry, mind your elevator's capacity limits, hold onto the railings, and you'll probably be just fine. And if you're curious about to comport yourself in that little box, learn these 13 Mistakes You're Making in an Elevator.

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Sarah Crow
Sarah Crow is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!, where she focuses on celebrity news and health coverage. Read more
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