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Current Trends Alcohol-Related Traffic Fatalities During Holidays -- United States, 1988

For 1988, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that motor-vehicle crashes accounted for 47,093 deaths in the United States (1); an estimated 18,503 (39.3%) of these fatalities were alcohol-related. Drunk drivers* were involved in 16,323 of the deaths; in addition, 2180 drunk pedestrians and bicyclists were killed. During weekdays, 30.4% of fatal crashes involved drunk driving; during weekends, 50.3%; and during weekends at nighttime, 60.3% (1).

In general, holiday periods were characterized by an increased rate of traffic fatalities and a higher proportion of deaths involving drunk driving (Table 1). Overall, 48.9% of traffic deaths during the holiday periods involved drunk driving, compared with 38.6% during nonholiday periods.

For the 1989 Christmas/Hanukkah/New Year's holiday period (December 21, 1989- January 2, 1990), analysis of data provided by the National Center for Statistics and Analysis, NHTSA, indicates that an estimated 1770 deaths (Table 2) and 48,000 moderate to severe injuries in motor vehicle crashes will occur. Of these, an estimated 885 (50%) deaths and 24,000 (50%) injuries will be associated with alcohol use. Reported by: Div of Injury Epidemiology and Control, Center for Environmental Health and Injury Control, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: Although substantial progress has been made in reducing the combination of drinking and driving in recent years (2), the persistence of drunk driving as a serious public health problem (1) is reflected by the estimated 40% of persons in the United States who will be involved in an alcohol-related crash during their lifetimes (4). Almost half of fatally injured drivers and substantial proportions of adult passengers and pedestrians killed in motor-vehicle crashes have blood-alcohol concentrations (BACs) of greater than or equal to 0.1 g divided by L (1). However, substantial proportions of alcohol-related injuries and deaths in motor-vehicle crashes also involved participants (drivers, pedestrians, or bicyclists) with detectable BACs of less than 0.1 g divided by L (5).

The increase in traffic deaths and injuries during holidays may be related, in part, to higher rates of travel--especially at times of greatest risk (e.g., nighttime andweekends, when drivers are most likely to be drinking). In 1988, an estimated 69.8% of all nighttime fatal motor-vehicle crashes involved at least one participant with a detectable BAC, compared with 23.5% of daytime crashes. Of all weekend fatal crashes, an estimated 62.4% involved a participant with a detectable BAC, compared with 38.9% on weekdays (6).

In 1988, Congress adopted resolutions urging the Surgeon General to declare drunk driving a national crisis and to take measures to reduce the occurrence of drinking and driving. The Surgeon General's Workshop on Drunk Driving (jointly convened in 1988 by the U.S. departments of Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, Justice, and Transportation) developed recommendations directed at this problem. Major recommendations of the workshop advocated reducing the legal limit for BACs in drivers to 0.04 g divided by L, increasing federal and state taxes on liquor, strengthening warning labels on alcohol beverages, restricting alcohol advertising in certain areas, and increasing public safety messages that stress moderation in drinking (3).


  1. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Fatal Accident Reporting System 1988: a review of information on fatal traffic accidents in the United States in 1988. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation (in press).

  2. Fell JC, Nash CE. The nature of the alcohol problem in U.S. fatal crashes. Health Educ Q 1989;16:335-43.

  3. Office of the Surgeon General. Surgeon General's Workshop on Drunk Driving Proceedings. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services, 1989.

  4. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Drunk driving facts. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation, 1988.

  5. CDC. Premature mortality due to alcohol-related motor vehicle traffic fatalities--United States, 1987. MMWR 1988;37:753-5.

  6. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Alcohol involvement in fatal traffic crashes, 1988. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation, 1989. *Drunk driving is defined as a blood alcohol concentration of greater than or equal to 0.1 g divided by L in either a driver or nonoccupant (pedestrian or bicyclist) involved in a motor-vehicle crash.

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