Alcohol Impaired Driving Fatalities FAQs

NHTSA(National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) recently released the estimated number of alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities for 2007. This document answers questions related to NHTSA’s method of reporting fatalities that occur in crashes that involve alcohol-impaired drivers.

Q. How does NHTSA define alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities?
A: Alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities are fatalities that occur in motor vehicle traffic crashes that involve at least one driver or a motorcycle rider (operator) with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 grams per deciliter or above.

Q. Is this a new way to measure the drunk driving problem?
A: No, NHTSA has reported the number of fatalities in crashes involving drivers or motorcycle riders (operators) with BAC levels of .08 or above for several years. This year, NHTSA has changed the terminology for this measure to “alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities” to avoid confusion with other measures.

Q. Previously, NHTSA also used the number of “alcohol-related fatalities” as a measure of the problem. Will the agency no longer use this number?
A: To improve clarity and focus attention on the impaired-driving problem, NHTSA will now be using a single number alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities in documents that get widespread public distribution. In past years, NHTSA has published both the number of fatalities in crashes involving drivers or motorcycle riders (operators) with BAC levels of .08 or above (now called alcoholimpaired-driving fatalities) and the number of fatalities in crashes in which a driver, motorcycle rider (operator), pedestrian, or bicyclist had a BAC of .01 or higher (called alcohol-related fatalities).

Q. How different are the estimates of alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities from alcoholrelated
A: For the Nation as a whole, NHTSA estimates that in 2007 there were 12,998 alcohol-impaired driving fatalities as compared to 13,491 alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities in 2006. The corresponding alcohol-related fatalities for 2006 and 2007 were 17,738 and 17,036, respectively.

Q. Why is the estimate of alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities lower than the estimate of alcohol-related fatalities?
A: The new definition alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities is a subset of the older definition (alcohol-related fatalities) as it is based on a higher BAC threshold (.08+) and also does not consider the impairment status of nonoccupants involved in fatal crashes, such as pedestrians and pedalcyclists.

Q. Why is NHTSA making this change in reporting?
A: In documents that get widespread public distribution, NHTSA wants to be as clear and concise as possible in describing the impaired-driving problem. Using a single number to depict the scale of the problem reduces confusion among most readers. The number of alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities, i.e., fatalities in crashes in which a driver or motorcycle rider (operator) had a BAC at or above .08, is the single best way to describe the problem due to the preponderance of evidence indicating serious
impairment at this BAC level and the existence of “per se” legislation in every State.

Q. Is NHTSA only going to report out estimates of alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities?
A: While NHTSA publications intended for widespread public distribution (Traffic Safety Facts,media campaign material) will place the emphasis solely on alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities, other estimates including the number of alcohol-related fatalities will continue to be available on NHTSA’s State Traffic Safety Information (STSI) Web site as well as through responses to
customized data requests made to NHTSA’s Customer Automated Tracking System (CATS).

Q. How about estimates of alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities and fatality rates (per VMT) for prior years?
A: NHTSA has computed historical estimates back to 1982 and can provide estimates of alcoholimpaired-driving fatalities and the fatality rates per 100 million vehicle miles of travel (VMT) for the Nation, States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, going back to 1982. In addition, NHTSA will continue to generate the estimates of alcohol-related fatalities and make them available on the STSI Web site and through customized data requests.

Q. How does NHTSA plan to address immediate data needs from States and other stakeholders for trend data on alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities?
A: NHTSA has created data sheets, going back to 1982, including the estimated number, percentage, and rate of alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities, for every State, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. The data sheets also provide a side-by-side comparison of the number, percentage, and rate of alcohol-related fatalities back to 1982.



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