Climbing in the Gunks is not dangerous any more dangerous than driving a car, and probably more safer than that. You don't have to stand under loose rocks with climbers on them.
The thing about climbing here is that it is only as dangerous as you make it. You always have the option to think about it and reverse anything you are doing. And you do not have to put yourself into dangerously irreversible situations. You can't do that when you are driving an automobile. Someone can go through a stop sign or a traffic signal, your safety depends on the person in front of you.
My greatest concern is getting hit on the head with a piece of gear or having some new climber fall on me while walking down the carriage road.
Oh yes, you can have an accident, but it does not have to be that way. I think if you are pro-actively safety minded, and you are not thinking about some problem you are having with your girlfriend or the IRS etc. there is no reason to have an accident in the first place.
For example, I used to play tricks on my belyers. We would always climb at night always till you could not see, and then rappel down. Sometimes when my belyers would lower me to the ground, then they would not be able to see me, so I would just keep pulling the rope. All the ropes where 165' back then. So I would tell the person I was climbing with to give me slack faster and faster and then surprise!, I would be able to get the end of the rope through the stitch plate. Very funny, you have to scream too. It is these kinds of games you can play to keep you on your toes.
You can also throw Styrofoam rocks on your belayers also, to see if they are paying attention. After a while it gets harder and harder to kill them, or for they to kill you. You have to be a defensive driver, you have to be safety minded to avoid accidents. There will be days where you are not paying attention, but those days would be better off if you stayed home and did not go climbing. Once you allow yourself into a dangerous situation knowingly or unknowingly, things can get out of control fast and you can die or hurt someone.
You really have to be intimately acquainted with your limitations and your environment, and this takes years, it does not happen overnight. You can't let your guard down when you are changing gear around. And if you have been climbing for a long time, your biggest concern should be that you are not as alert to your environment as you were when you first started climbing. And sometimes that can be a difficult challenge. But I think as long as we are talking about safety and thinking about safety, it makes it very much harder to get hurt and to get into dangerous situations in the first place. And, you can't be sloppy, you have to be very neat and organized too, everything must be in order. Sometimes you need to stop, and just pull everything apart and start all over again.
And if you're going to lead, you should have a long time doing easy stuff first to understand all the protection and the moves, how the rock works, how it all works together, and all the dangers. If you are climbing with someone more experienced then you, then they can place the critical gear or tell you when you are doing something you need to learn from outside of the danger zone.
And if you are going to take falls, than you need to prepare for that, take some short falls of a few inches and work your way up to how you are going to fall. You don't just fall off whenever, you need to know your limitations and the dangers and be in relationship with them. It's a dance, and if you're not paying attention to your partner and watching the other girls you're going to get a slap!http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKoJwPH-GOo&feature=related
Climbing is fun, it does not have to be dangerous, and it's not dangerous as long as you know what you are doing, you have the experience, and you are paying close attention. But it takes a long time until you get to that point where good habits are routine. You can always make a mistake, so you can never be self confident. The safety is in the fear. Doing the same things over and over guarantees you will be safe. It is when you do something new or something that breaks your concentration that there can be a problem. Climbing is very dangerous, but it is a danger that you have to keep on top of, you can't let it get away from you, and you have to know what to look for instinctively. And that is a real challenge if you are only climbing on the weekends or don't have a lot of experience. It's like typing used to be before we had computers, mistakes are always possible. So you need to take your time and think things through before you do them.
And if anyone tells you to started leading hard climbs from the first day, or some other story, they are misleading you.