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Temporal Patterns of Motor-Vehicle-Related Fatalities

Associated with Young Drinking Drivers -- United States, 1983 Analysis of data from the Fatal Accident Reporting System (FARS) reveals that there were 37,971 reported fatal motor-vehicle incidents in 1983, resulting in 42,584 fatalities. Alcohol was an important contributing factor in 17,847 (42%) of these deaths. Of the 54,649 drivers involved in these incidents, 16,483 (30%) had positive blood-alcohol concentration test results or were judged by the investigating officers to be alcohol-involved. Thirty-three percent (17,764) of all drivers in fatal motor-vehicle incidents were between the ages of 16 years and 24 years. Thirty-eight percent (6,833) of the drivers from this age group were alcohol-involved, compared to 26% for all other ages. In 1983, incidents involving young drinking drivers claimed 7,784 lives, of which 3,992 (51%) were the young drivers themselves.*

Several studies have indicated that motor-vehicle-associated deaths involving young drinking drivers are not uniformly distributed temporally (2-4). For example, more fatalities occur during nighttime rather than daytime and on weekends rather than weekdays. Analysis of 1983 FARS data for youth-related alcohol-involved fatalities supports and expands these findings. Temporal patterns of fatalities were investigated by quarter, month, day of week and time of day, and holiday period. Examination of the frequency of fatalities by quarter shows that the third quarter (July-September) accounts for the largest proportion of fatalities, followed by the second, fourth, and first quarters (Table 3).

An examination of monthly totals for alcohol-involved young driver-related fatalities reveals a more detailed picture of the quarterly pattern. January has the fewest fatalities for the year. From January through May, the frequency of fatalities rises steadily, followed by a slight drop in June. Fatalities peak in July and August, then decline from September through December.

Temporal patterns of fatalities associated with young drinking drivers also vary depending on the day of the week and the time of day of the incident (Figure 1). Approximately 67% of all such deaths occur on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. Seventy percent of all such deaths occur between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m. When these two factors are considered simultaneously, 48% of all such deaths occur between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m. on the weekend.

The number of persons killed in motor-vehicle incidents involving young drinking drivers for the major holiday periods (5,6), Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day accounts for 65% of all holiday fatalities (Figure 2). The numbers of fatalities for these holidays were greater than those for similar quarterly nonholiday days of the week and times of day, while fewer young drinking driver-related fatalities occurred for the New Year's, Thanksgiving, and Christmas holiday periods. Reported by T Zobeck, PhD, MB Grigson, Alcohol Epidemiologic Data System, CSR, Incorporated, J Noble, H Malin, MA, Div of Biometry and Epidemiology, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Washington, DC; Epidemiologic Studies Br, Div of Surveillance and Epidemiologic Studies, Epidemiology Program Office, Special Studies Br, Chronic Diseases Div, Center for Environmental Health, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: Many fatal motor-vehicle-related injuries are associated with young drivers, particularly those who are alcohol-involved. Nonetheless, although alcohol use is clearly a risk factor for fatal vehicular injuries among young persons, the increased risk of incurring such injuries when drinking is not limited to young drivers.

The prevention of alcohol-associated motor-vehicle deaths and injuries has been a subject of scientific scrutiny (7). Research indicates that drunk-driving laws can have an effect in reducing fatality rates only when there is sustained public perception of a significant possibility of arrest and conviction with severe penalty matched by a significant and sustained increase in the number of arrests and convictions.

Other proven methods in reducing motor-vehicle fatalities and injuries associated with younger drivers include raising the legal age for the consumption and purchase of alcohol, raising the age of motor-vehicle licensure, and instituting a well-enforced curfew system to restrict night driving.


  1. CDC. Patterns of alcohol use among teenage drivers in fatal motor vehicle accidents--United States, 1977-1981. MMWR 1983;32:344-7.

  2. Carlson WL. Age, exposure, and alcohol involvement in night crashes. J Safety Res 1973;5:247-59.

  3. Lacey JH, Stewart RJ, Council FH. Techniques for predicting high-risk drivers of alcohol countermeasures. Vol. 1. Technical report. Final report to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Chapel Hill: Highway Safety Research Center, University of North Carolina, 1979.

  4. Douglas R. Youth alcohol and traffic accidents. In: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Special population issues. Alcohol and health monograph 4. DHHS publication no. (ADM) 82-1193. Washington, D.C.: Department of Health and Human Services, 1982:197-226.

  5. National Safety Council, Traffic Safety Department. Press releases, Public Relations Department. December 13, 1982-December 27, 1983.

  6. U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs. News release, November 20, 1984.

  7. Robertson LS. Control strategies: laws and regulations directed at individuals. In: Injuries: causes, control strategies, and public policy. Lexington, Massachusetts: DC Heath and Company, 1983;118-25. *There are several limitations related to these findings. One is that blood-alcohol information is available for fewer than half the drivers reported in the FARS (1); also, these data do not allow consideration of other risk factors, such as miles driven by young drivers, compared with other drivers, or average number of occupants per car, by driver age.

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