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Current Trends Premature Mortality due to Alcohol-Related Motor Vehicle Traffic Fatalities -- United States, 1987

In 1987, an estimated 23,630 persons were killed in alcohol-related motor vehicle traffic (MVT) crashes (1). These fatalities accounted for an estimated 783,304 years of potential life lost (YPLL) before age 65 (Table 1). Estimates were based on data recorded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the Fatal Accident Reporting System (FARS), and they represented 55.3% of all YPLL due to MVT crashes. To be included in FARS, an MVT crash--by definition--had to involve a motor vehicle traveling on a traffic way customarily open to the public and result in a death (of a vehicle occupant, pedestrian, pedalcyclist, or nonmotorist) within 30 days. A fatality was considered to be alcohol-related if it resulted from an MVT crash involving a driver, pedestrian, or pedalcyclist (not necessarily the deceased) with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of greater than or equal to0.01%. Of the alcohol-related YPLL from MVT crashes, 609,346 (78%) involved a driver, pedestrian, or pedalcyclist who was intoxicated (intoxication was defined as a BAC of greater than or equal to0.10%). In some instances, alcohol involvement was not reported and statistical discriminant analysis was used to estimate alcohol involvement (3).

Males accounted for more than three-quarters of the YPLL due to alcohol-related and alcohol-intoxication-related MVT crashes. In 1987, the alcohol-related MVT YPLL rate per 100,000 persons was 366.8. Males had an alcohol-related MVT YPLL rate that was 3.4 times that for females (Table 1). Reported by: National Center for Statistics and Analysis, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, US Dept of Transportation. Epidemiology Br, Biometrics Br, Div of Injury Epidemiology and Control, Center for Environmental Health and Injury Control, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: The FARS data system, initiated by NHTSA in 1975, contains detailed data gathered from multiple sources for all fatal MVT crashes in the United States. When compared with vital statistics data on MVTs, FARS data offer at least two unique advantages: first, they include information on alcohol involvement, seat-belt use, and vehicle and crash characteristics, and second, they are available within 6 months after the year of the fatality. Although the FARS definition of an MVT fatality differs slightly from that used by the National Center for Health Statistics, the counts from the two data systems are very similar (within 2%) (4).

FARS data in combination with vital statistics data enable investigators to estimate the contribution of alcohol-related MVT fatalities to the total YPLL in the United States from all causes. In 1986, the most recent year for which complete national vital statistics data are available, injuries accounted for 31.9% of all YPLL in the United States (Figure 1); the predominant cause of the injury-related YPLL was MVT injuries. FARS data for 1986 indicate that over half (56.8%) of the MVT YPLL were alcohol- related, accounting for 6.8% of the total YPLL in the United States. Alcohol- intoxication-related MVT crashes accounted for 44.5% of all MVT YPLL and 5.3% of the total YPLL in the United States.

Since 1982, the first year in which alcohol involvement was consistently recorded in FARS, the proportion of MVT fatalities that were alcohol-related has declined (1). From 1982 through 1987, the proportion of drivers who were intoxicated at the time of a fatal crash decreased 17%. For teenaged drivers in fatal crashes, the proportion who were intoxicated declined 34%. Reductions in alcohol involvement between 1982 and 1987 occurred under most fatal-crash circumstances; however, reductions were relatively greater for teenaged drivers, females, surviving drivers, teenaged pedestrians, and older drivers. Reductions also were relatively greater in daytime crashes. In contrast, the reduction in alcohol involvement in fatal MVT crashes was minimal or nonexistent for drivers aged 25-34, motorcycle drivers, and pedestrians aged 20 to 64, and in fatal crashes occurring late at night.

The proportion of MVT-related crashes involving alcohol may have been reduced because of 1) increased public awareness of the problem, 2) enactment of more stringent laws and increased enforcement of existing laws by state and local governments, and 3) laws that raised the drinking age to 21 in all states. Public health workers, highway safety officials, and medical-care providers should continue coordinated efforts to educate the public about this health problem.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and NHTSA are collaborating in a public, private, state, and federal prevention effort centered around this year's "National Drunk and Drugged Driving Awareness Week," December 12-16, 1988.


  1. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Fatal Accident Reporting System data tapes, 1982-1987 (separate years). Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1982-1987. 2.Bureau of the Census. United States population estimates, by age, sex, and race: 1980 to 1987. Washington, DC: US Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, 1988. (Current Population Reports; series P-25, no. 1022). 3.Fell JC, Klein T. The nature of the reduction in alcohol in US fatal crashes. Warrendale, Pennsylvania: Society of Automotive Engineers, Inc, 1987. (SAE technical paper series 860038). 4.Conn JM. Deaths from motor vehicle-related injuries, 1978-1984. In: Public health surveillance of 1990 injury control objectives for the nation. CDC surveillance summaries, February 1988. MMWR 1988;37(suppl SS-1):5-12.

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