Car accident CrashIn an attempt to discover the role of alcohol on death rates in the United States, researchers from the United States National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism conducted a study comparing death certificates to information gathered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). The results indicated a large discrepancy between the two. Highway data showed that 21 percent of the fatal accidents involved alcohol, while less than four percent of the death certificates indicated that the cause of death was alcohol related.

States record drivers’ blood alcohol content inconsistently

State laws vary when it comes to testing drivers involved in fatal crashes. In 2010, only 49 percent had blood-alcohol test results recorded in FARS. Illinois is one of 26 states that require testing for both surviving and killed drivers involved in fatal crashes. Nine states test only drivers who are killed, 11 test only survivors, and five do not require tests on the blood alcohol content of drivers involved in fatal motor vehicle accidents.

Not every state that mandates tests reports the results consistently on the death certificates, and some reported results more often even though the tests are not required. For example, Kansas is one of the five that do not call for testing, but it is one of the top four when it comes to reporting the crash occurrences where alcohol plays a role.

Researchers speculate that part of the problem rests with the length of time that it takes for coroners and medical examiners to receive toxicology reports. Death certificates must be filed within three to five days, and the results can take much longer. Unfortunately, the study does not identify the reason that some states are better at recording the information on the death certificates, but further studies may make the successes clearer.

Policies on alcohol-related issues are not fully informed

One of the primary reasons this study is important is so that data about drinking and driving can be assessed accurately. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list injuries as the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 45, but there is no way to determine the number affected by alcohol. The effects of alcohol on other types of fatal accidents, such as falls, are also unable to be accurately factored. Lawmakers cannot correctly measure how big the problem is, whether the current policies are affecting alcohol-related traffic fatalities, or whether changes should be made.


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