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Study: Drunk driving fatality rates may not be accurate

Everyone probably knows that drunk driving is illegal in all 50 states. Not only that, but it's also incredibly dangerous. In addition to distracted driving, driving under the influence of alcohol is largely considered one of the most significant causes of traffic accidents in the country. Even with this in mind, a recently released study suggests that alcohol-related traffic fatalities might be severely underreported.

A study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs revealed a wide discrepancy between federal accident data and information gleaned from death certificates. Researchers found that alcohol often isn't listed as a factor in traffic fatalities on death certificates, even when it played a role.

According to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 21 percent of traffic fatalities involved someone who was legally drunk at the time of the accident. In comparison, however, only 3 percent of death certificates listed alcohol as a contributing factor among those who died in a motor vehicle accident.

At this time, researchers have a number of potential explanations as to why this wide discrepancy has appeared, but they are most concerned about the public safety implications.

If alcohol-related accident deaths are being underreported, policymakers may not realize how big of a problem it is. Not only that, but inconsistent data makes it difficult to determine whether or not current laws and any reforms are actually effective. Reliable statistics play a big role in determining the direction of public policy, and this revelation shows that public safety could be at risk.

Federal, state and local laws should be designed to limit preventable drunk driving accidents. No matter how these policies change, however, it's up to individual drivers to ensure that they don't drive when they are impaired.

Source: CBS News, "Drunk-driving deaths under-reported in U.S., study says," Robert Preift, March 24, 2014

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