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Current Trends Alcohol-Related traffic Fatalities - United States, 1982-1989

Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death in the United States for all age groups from 1 through 34 years (1). Almost half of all traffic fatalities are alcohol-related (2,3), and an estimated 40% of all persons in the United States may be involved in an alcohol-related traffic crash sometime during their lives (3). This report summarizes data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) Fatal Accident Reporting System on trends in alcohol-related traffic fatalities (ARTFs) in the United States during 1982-1989.

A fatal traffic crash is considered alcohol-related by NHTSA if either a driver or nonoccupant (e.g., a pedestrian) had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of greater than or equal to 0.01 g divided by L in a police-reported traffic crash. NHTSA defines a BAC of greater than or equal to 0.01 g divided by L but less than 0.10 g divided by L as indicating a low level of alcohol and a BAC of greater than or equal to 0.10 g divided by L (the legal level of intoxication in most states) as indicating intoxication. Because BAC levels are not available for all persons involved in fatal crashes, NHTSA estimates the number of ARTFs based on a discriminant analysis of information from all cases for which driver or nonoccupant BAC data are available (4).

From 1982 through 1989, the estimated number of fatalities in crashes in which at least one driver or nonoccupant was intoxicated decreased 12%, from 20,356 to 17,849 (Table 1). During the same period, the estimated number of intoxicated drivers involved in fatal crashes decreased 13%, from 16,793 to 14,644 (Table 2). The estimated number of drivers with low-level BAC involved in fatal crashes decreased 9%, from 4987 to 4540 (Table 2); however, the percentage of total fatalities involving a driver or nonoccupant with a low-level BAC remained between 10% and 11% (Table 1). Reported by: ME Vegega, PhD, Office of Alcohol and State Programs, Traffic Safety Programs; TM Klein, National Center for Statistics and Analysis, Research and Development, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Epidemiology Br, Div of Injury Control, Center for Environmental Health and Injury Control, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: Although the number of ARTFs in the United States has decreased since 1982, alcohol-impaired driving remains a serious public health problem (5): in 1989, greater than 22,000 ARTFs occurred in the United States. Moreover, the rate of decline in ARTFs has slowed (average annual decrease during 1982-1985: 3.7%; average annual decrease during 1985-1989: 1.7%) (Table 1). During 1982-1985, the reduction in alcohol-related fatal crashes resulted from a decreased proportion of fatal crashes involving persons with BAC levels greater than or equal to 0.10 g divided by L (Table 1). The reduction since 1986 appears to reflect a decreased proportion of fatal crashes involving both drivers with low-level BACs and drivers with BACs greater than or equal to 0.10 g divided by L (Table 2).

Factors that may have contributed to the reduction in ARTFs include 1) changes in state laws and stricter enforcement of these laws, 2) increases in the minimum legal drinking age in 35 states from 1982 through 1987, 3) increased media attention resulting in increased public awareness, and 4) increased number of programs emphasizing responsible behavior and alternatives to drinking and driving (e.g., education of persons who serve alcoholic beverages and designation of nondrinking drivers) (6). NHTSA program efforts for further reducing alcohol-impaired driving and continuing the downward trend in alcohol-related fatal crashes include 1) supporting activities to promote prompt license suspension for persons who drive while intoxicated, 2) supporting expanded use of sobriety checkpoints, 3) developing enforcement policies specific to reducing alcohol-impaired driving among youth, and 4) educating the public about alcohol-impaired driving, particularly among youth (7).

References

  1. NCHS. Health, United States, 1988. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, CDC, 1989; DHHS publication no. (PHS)89-1232.

  2. 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, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1989; publication no. HS-807-507.

  3. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Drunk driving facts. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1989.

  4. Klein TM. A method for estimating posterior BAC distributions for persons involved in fatal traffic accidents: final report. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1986; DOT report no. HS-807-094.

  5. Office of the Surgeon General. Surgeon General's Workshop on Drunk Driving: proceedings. Washington DC: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, 1989.

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

  7. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Highway safety: priority plan--moving America into the 21st century. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1990.



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