Skip Navigation LinksSkip Navigation Links
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Safer Healthier People
Blue White
Blue White
bottom curve
CDC Home Search Health Topics A-Z spacer spacer
spacer
Blue curve MMWR spacer
spacer
spacer

The content on this page is being archived for historic and reference purposes only. The content, links, and pdfs are no longer maintained and might be outdated.

Annual and New Year's Day Alcohol-Related Traffic Fatalities -- United States, 1982-1990

Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death in the United States for all age groups from 1 through 34 years (1), and almost half of these fatalities are alcohol-related (2,3); an estimated 40% of all persons may be involved in an alcohol-related traffic crash sometime during their lives (3). During holiday periods, the incidence of traffic fatalities and of alcohol-related traffic fatalities (ARTFs) tends to be higher than during nonholiday periods (4,5). This report summarizes data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) Fatal Accident Reporting System on trends in ARTFs in the United States from 1982 through 1990 both annually and for January 1 of each year. * In addition, a quarterly table (pages 838-9 of this issue) presents data on alcohol involvement in fatal motor-vehicle crashes in the United States for October-December 1990.

  • Because many crashes related to New Year's Eve activities are recorded on January 1 rather than December 31, data for January 1 were used to assess changes in ARTFs associated with New Year's Eve. During 1975-1985, when fatalities on national holidays were compared with fatalities on adjacent days, New Year's Day had the greatest relative increase in traffic fatalities (64%) compared with all other holidays (4).

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) greater than or equal to 0.01 g/dL in a police-reported traffic crash. NHTSA defines a BAC greater than or equal to 0.01 g/dL but less than 0.10 g/dL as indicating a low level of alcohol and a BAC greater than or equal to 0.10 g/dL (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 (6). In this report, "alcohol-involved" refers to crashes ** or drivers with a BAC greater than or equal to 0.01 g/dL. Data on alcohol-involved drivers refer only to drivers involved in fatal crashes.

** NHTSA assigns vehicle crashes a BAC level that represents the highest BAC level of anyone involved in the crash.

From 1982 through 1990, the estimated percentage of ARTFs decreased both annually and for January 1 (Table 1). The estimated percentage of total ARTFs declined 13% (from 57.3% in 1982 to 49.6% in 1990), an average annual decline of approximately 2%; the estimated percentage of ARTFs occurring on January 1 decreased 26% (from 83.5% in 1982 to 62.0% in 1990), an average annual decrease of 4%. The estimated percentage of alcohol-involved drivers in fatal crashes decreased 17% (from 38.9% in 1982 to 32.2% in 1990), an average annual decline of 2%; however, for January 1, the estimated percentage of alcohol-involved drivers decreased 37% (from 63.3% in 1982 to 39.7% in 1990), an average annual decline of 6% (Table 2).

From 1982 through 1990, compared with the expected daily average for each year, the overrepresentation of ARTFs and alcohol-involved drivers in fatal crashes on January 1 declined (Table 3). For example, on January 1, 1982, the number of ARTFs and the number of alcohol-involved drivers exceeded the expected daily average for the year by 126% and 135%, respectively. In comparison, on January 1, 1990, the number of ARTFs and alcohol-involved drivers were overrepresented by 34% and 33%, respectively. However, the average daily number of fatalities differs by day of the week; the highest average daily number of fatalities occurs on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays (4). Therefore, the declining trend in alcohol involvement for January 1, 1982 (a Friday), compared with January 1, 1990 (a Monday), may reflect, in part, differences by day of the week (in general, fewer fatalities are expected on Mondays than on Fridays). Nonetheless, when data are compared for years when January 1 occurred on the same day of the week (e.g., 1982 versus 1988 (both Fridays) and 1984 versus 1989 (both Sundays)), a downward trend in alcohol involvement on January 1 persisted. 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. Unintentional Injury Section, Epidemiology Br, Div of Injury Control, National Center for Environmental Health and Injury Control, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: The findings in this report indicate that the number of ARTFs and alcohol-involved drivers in fatal crashes in the United States has decreased since 1982. Despite this trend, alcohol-involved driving remains a critical and preventable public health problem (7): during 1990 more than 22,000 persons died in alcohol-related traffic crashes in the United States, and an estimated 19,000 drivers had been drinking at the time of the crash.

One national health objective for the year 2000 is to reduce deaths caused by alcohol-related traffic crashes to no more than 8.5 per 100,000 persons (8). Preliminary data indicate that deaths caused by alcohol-related traffic crashes have declined from the 1987 baseline of 9.8 per 100,000 persons (8) to 8.9 per 100,000 persons in 1990 (NHTSA, unpublished data). Efforts by federal, state, and local governments and nongovernment organizations are helping to achieve this objective. For example, although New Year's Eve is traditionally a time of increased celebration and travel, from 1982 through 1990, the reduction in the estimated percentage of ARTFs was greater for January 1 than throughout the year (26% versus 13%, respectively). Similarly, the reduction in the estimated percentage of alcohol-involved drivers in fatal crashes was greater for January 1 than throughout the year (37% versus 17%, respectively).

Factors that may have contributed to the reduction in ARTFs on January 1 include general deterrence efforts (e.g., legislation and increased enforcement of existing laws), publicity about drinking and driving, and increased emphasis on the use of designated nondrinking drivers and alternative transportation (e.g., taxis). NHTSA program efforts for continued reductions in ARTFs and alcohol-involved driving include 1) supporting activities that result in the prompt suspension of licenses of persons who drive while intoxicated; 2) supporting expanded use of sobriety checkpoints; and 3) developing enforcement policies to reduce alcohol-involved driving among youth (9). In addition, NHTSA and CDC are collaborating to educate the public about alcohol-involved driving (9-11).

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--1989: a review of information on fatal traffic crashes in the United States in 1989. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1989; publication no. DOT-HS-807-693.

  3. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Drunk driving facts. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1991.

  4. Arnold R, Cerrelli EC. Holiday effect on traffic fatalities. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1987; report no. DOT-HS-807-115.

  5. CDC. Alcohol-related traffic fatalities during holidays--United States, 1988. MMWR 1989;38:861-3.

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

  7. 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.

  8. Public Health Service. Healthy people 2000: national health promotion and disease prevention objectives--full report, with commentary. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, 1991; DHHS publication no. (PHS)91-50212.

  9. 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, 1991.

  10. CDC. Alcohol-related traffic fatalities among youth and young adults--United States, 1982-1989. MMWR 1991;40:178-9,185-7.

  11. CDC. Safety-belt use among drivers involved in alcohol-related fatal motor-vehicle crashes--United States, 1982-1989. MMWR 1991;40:397-400.

Disclaimer   All MMWR HTML documents published before January 1993 are electronic conversions from ASCII text into HTML. This conversion may have resulted in character translation or format errors in the HTML version. Users should not rely on this HTML document, but are referred to the original MMWR paper copy for the official text, figures, and tables. An original paper copy of this issue can be obtained from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO), Washington, DC 20402-9371; telephone: (202) 512-1800. Contact GPO for current prices.

**Questions or messages regarding errors in formatting should be addressed to mmwrq@cdc.gov.

Page converted: 08/05/98

HOME  |  ABOUT MMWR  |  MMWR SEARCH  |  DOWNLOADS  |  RSSCONTACT
POLICY  |  DISCLAIMER  |  ACCESSIBILITY

Safer, Healthier People

Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Rd, MailStop E-90, Atlanta, GA 30333, U.S.A

USA.GovDHHS

Department of Health
and Human Services

This page last reviewed 5/2/01