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Perspectives in Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Alcohol- Related Traffic Fatalities during Christmas and New Year Holidays -- United States, 1978-1984

Analyses of data from the Fatal Accident Reporting System (FARS) for 1978-1984 reveal that alcohol-related traffic deaths tend to be higher during the Christmas and New Year holiday periods* than during the year as a whole. Three sets of comparisons were made for the 7 years of data: the absolute number of alcohol-related traffic deaths, the percentage of alcohol-related deaths, and the number of alcohol-related deaths per 24 hours occurring during the two holiday periods and the 12-month periods. A death was considered alcohol-related if at least one driver had a positive blood-alcohol concentration test result** (1) or if the investigating officer judged that alcohol was involved.

During the years 1978-1984, the total number of alcohol-related traffic deaths ranged from 17,861 to 21,114 per year. Over these 7 years, both the number of traffic deaths per 24 hours and the proportion of alcohol-related traffic deaths were generally higher for the two holiday periods than for the year as a whole. Both the total number of traffic deaths and the number of alcohol-related traffic deaths per 24 hours for the holidays and the 12-month periods declined from 1980 to 1983. In 1984, the number of alcohol-related traffic deaths increased for both the two holiday periods and the 12-month period; in addition, the proportion of alcohol-related traffic deaths increased during the Christmas holiday period but not the New Year. Reported by MB Grigson, T Zobeck, PhD, G Williams, DEd, Alcohol Epidemiologic Data System, CSR, Incorporated, D Bertolucci, MA, Div of Biometry and Epidemiology, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Washington, D.C.; Epidemiologic Studies Br, Div of Surveillance and Epidemiologic Studies, Epidemiology Program Office, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: The proportion of all traffic deaths that are alcohol-related is generally higher during the holidays than at other times (2). Data collected by Iowa, for example, show that the alcohol involvement rate for 1978 through 1983 was 50%-60% for the New Year holiday period and over 60% for the Christmas holiday. In contrast, during 1983, 49% of all Iowa traffic fatalities were alcohol-related (3).

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are collaborating in a public and private, state and federal prevention effort centered around this year's "National Drunk and Drugged Driving Awareness Week," December 15-21, 1985. They have prepared public service announcements for television and radio that will be available for state and local use during the holidays. A similar effort in Maryland has previously been successful in preventing alcohol-related traffic fatalities (4).


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

  2. CDC. Temporal patterns of motor-vehicle-related fatalities associated with young drinking drivers--United States, 1983. MMWR 1984;33:699-701.

  3. Iowa Department of Transportation. 1983 accident facts. Des Moines, Iowa: Iowa Department of Transportation, January 1985:9.

  4. Office of the County Executive, Montgomery County Government. Report of the ad hoc task force on drinking and driving. Rockville, Maryland: Montgomery County Government, May 1982:95. *The holiday periods were defined according to the National Safety Council. For 1979, 1982, and 1984, the holiday periods were 102 hours long; for the remaining years, the holiday periods were 78 hours long. **Blood alcohol information is available for fewer than half the drivers reported in the FARS.

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