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  • By: Kevin Leckerman, Esq.
  • Published: March 31, 2014
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A new study carried out by researchers reveals that the role of alcohol in U.S. traffic deaths may be significantly under-reported.

The study used data from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System which notes the blood alcohol levels of people killed in traffic accidents. They analyzed the data and compared it with data on death certificates from all the states and reported that more than 3 percent of death certificates listed alcohol as the contributing factor in fatal car crashes between the years 1999 and 2009. However, data provided by NHTSA showed that 21 percent of people who were killed in crashes were legally drunk. Results of their study were published in the March issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

The researchers who carried out the study suggested that alcohol is often not included on death certificates as the cause of death because it can take a long time to actually get the blood-alcohol test results of the victim. When a person dies, the death certificate is usually filed within three to five days of the death. However, test results to determine blood alcohol level of the individual may take longer than that.

The study also revealed that some states are more likely to include alcohol on death certificates as the cause of death compared to other states. However, the reason for this variation is not clear.

The study also revealed that about half of the states require that drivers killed in traffic crashes be tested for blood-alcohol levels currently. However, only 70 percent of those drivers are tested nationwide.

The news release published by the researchers also identified that this type of information is important for several reasons, such as for assessing the impact of policies that are meant to reduce alcohol-related deaths.

According to Ralph Hingson, with the U.S. National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, who was also the study leader, “You want to know how big the problem is, and if we can track it. Is it going up, or going down? And what policy measures are working?”

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