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Study looks at the role of alcohol in car accidents

| Sep 29, 2014 | Motor Vehicle Accident

Alcohol plays a role in many preventable car accidents that occur each year in Illinois and nationwide. The extent of this issue, however, still remains unclear as studies show that alcohol is often underreported in car accident cases. This misrepresentation of information may compromise the efforts of law enforcement and other officials to effectively combat the problem of drinking and driving, as it has become a significant cause of death for U.S. motorists and pedestrians.

In a recent accident reported by NBC Chicago News, a pedestrian was hit by a car going 40 miles per hour and later died of massive head trauma. Although law enforcement smelled alcohol on the breath of the driver and noticed that he was slurring his speech, they were unable to tell his exact blood alcohol content until six hours later when he finally agreed to take a breath test. At that time the driver’s BAC measured 0.161, which is significantly higher than the state’s legal limit of 0.08 percent. He is currently awaiting a court date.

The study

According to a CBS News report, the Fatality Analysis Reporting System updated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports the number of people who are killed in car accidents involving alcohol each year, including information noting the blood alcohol content levels of the people involved in the accidents. A study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs compared this information with death certificate data collected from each state in the nation from 1999-2009.

The findings

During this 10-year period, approximately 450,000 people died in traffic accidents in the U.S., according to the study. Just over 3 percent of death certificates named alcohol as a factor in fatal motor vehicle accidents, during this time. FARS data showed that 21 percent of traffic accident fatalities involved intoxicated drivers. This discrepancy in numbers has led researchers to further investigate why car accidents involving intoxicated drivers are being underreported on death certificates.

Researchers have several theories to account for this inconsistency in numbers. Some states require the death certificate to be filed within a certain time period, and toxicology reports may not make it back within that time period. Research also showed that some states failed to include alcohol as being involved in a fatal car accident for unknown reasons.

Why is this important?

Estimates from the National Safety Council found that approximately 35,200 people were killed in traffic accidents during 2013, and 3.8 million others received significant injuries that required medical attention. Having a clear understanding of how many car accidents involved intoxicated drivers can help lawmakers and other officials determine how to attack this problem, and keep the car accident fatality rate at a minimum.