How Elevator Psychology Works

Stuck on Stats

In December 2011, Suzanne Hart, 41, a New York City advertising executive, stepped into an elevator on Madison Avenue. Shockingly, the door closed on Hart and grabbed hold of her. Suddenly, like some sort of maniacal Transformer, the elevator turned monster, began its ascent and dragged Hart up the shaft, killing her and injuring two others [source: Donaldson].

Such tales chill our bones. Yet, they are rare. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were 22,674 elevator (and other lift) injuries in 2012. (For comparison, lawn mowers tallied up 83,573 injuries.) Of that number, 20,597 people needed treatment, while 2,077 had to be admitted to the hospital [sources: CPSC, Kaplan, Felton].

Moreover, 27 people die on average each year in elevator accidents. Still, with U.S. elevators making about 18 billion passenger trips each year, the fatality rate is a minuscule 0.00000015 percent per trip. Most of those deaths occur when people work or repair elevators [sources: CPSC, Kaplan, Felton]. In fact, if you live in the United States, you have a greater chance of being struck and killed by lightning than dying in an elevator accident, and both are highly unlikely [sources: National Geographic, NBC News].

Those who design and build the elevators say most accidents result from human error, not mechanical failure. Heck, some people injure themselves when climbing out of a stuck car. In fact, elevator professionals say riding in an elevator is 10 times safer than riding an escalator [source: Paumgarten]. Yet, people fear elevators fires, elevator decapitations and a litany of other problems. Yes, elevators cause anxiety in many people, who don't like to ride in them, or even wait for them.