WASHINGTON (CBS DC) – A new study has found that drunk driving deaths are under-reported in U.S. traffic deaths.

Data from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System was analyzed by researchers looking at the blood-alcohol levels of people killed in traffic accidents. Researchers compared that information with data from death certificates across the country.

According to CBS News, roughly more than 3 percent of death certificates listed alcohol as a contributing cause in fatal traffic accidents between 1999 and 2009. However, the highway data showed that 21 percent of the people killed in those accidents were legally drunk.

Researchers noted that death certificates are typically filed within three to five days after a death has occurred, but blood-alcohol test results may take longer than that citing why alcohol is often not included on death certificates.

Some states are more likely than others to include alcohol on death certificates, investigators explained in a journal news release.

It’s a requirement in roughly 50 percent of states to have drivers killed in traffic accidents to be tested for blood-alcohol levels. According to researchers, about 70 percent of those drivers are tested nationwide.

Study leader Ralph Hingson of the U.S. National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism explained that this type of information is extremely important for assessing the impact of policies meant to reduce alcohol-related deaths.

“We need to have a handle on what’s contributing to the leading cause of death among young people,” Hingson said in a press release. “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?”

The study was published in the March issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.


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