Study: Alcohol-related traffic fatalities much greater than reports show

Two women driving a car while drinkingThe National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 30,800 people were killed in the U.S. as a result of motor vehicle accidents in 2012. More than 10,000 of those deaths, 321 of which occurred in Illinois, involved intoxicated drivers. While these numbers may seem high, there may be significantly more drunk driving deaths than have been previously recorded, according to new research published in a CBS News report.

The facts

A study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs compared data collected by the NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System to death certificates collected from across the nation. Researchers found that while 21 percent of the more than 450,000 motor vehicle fatalities from 1999-2009 involved alcohol, just over 3 percent of death certificates reported during that time showed alcohol intoxication as being involved in those fatal car accidents. This leaves many people wondering exactly how many accident fatalities involved alcohol impaired drivers.

Reporting DUI fatality statistics

Experts suggest that there may be several reasons why a death certificate may not report that alcohol was involved in a person’s death, according to a CBS News report. One of the most common explanations is the length of time it takes to receive the results from a blood alcohol test. The blood test must come back with evidence proving that the driver was intoxicated before the death certificate is finalized and filed. In most cases, the death certificate is filed within five days of the decedent’s passing.

Additional information indicates that while some states diligently include the involvement of alcohol in a fatality on a death certificate, others states, including Nevada, New Jersey, Maryland and New Hampshire, are more reluctant to do so. This may be due to the fact that approximately half of the states require drivers, who have been fatally injured in auto accidents, have their blood alcohol levels tested. Other reasons for not reporting alcohol are not quite understood.

Why accurate reporting is important

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that for Americans under the age of 45, injuries are one of the leading causes of death. Accurate representation of how many of these fatalities involved alcohol is crucial to the implementation of programs, which focus on reducing the number of DUI deaths. Tracking whether the DUI fatality rate is going up or down helps leaders identify which programs are working and which are not. This information can be used to design better programs and campaigns urging people to reconsider driving while intoxicated.

As tests continue to identify people who were intoxicated while driving, organizations will continue to press for more accurate reporting methods.