Alcohol-Related Doesn’t Equal Alcohol-Caused

The Director of the federally funded Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention observes that “the U.S. federal government classifies traffic crashes as ‘alcohol-related’ when a driver or pedestrian has a BAC as low as .01 percent, a level not associated with meaningful impairment” but, at the hands of news editors and others, “government statistics on ‘alcohol-related deaths’ are instead reported as ‘drunk-driving deaths.’ This creates public confusion -- a politically useful confusion...” 1 The welfare, if not the survival, of public and private alcohol agencies depends largely on promoting the widespread belief that problems caused by alcohol abuse are enormous and growing.

Organizations such as MADD and government agencies such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) routinely mislead the public and elected officials with claims that grossly overstate the magnitude of the "drunk driver" problem:

"Despite the tireless efforts of thousands of advocates, impaired drivers continue to kill someone every 30 minutes, nearly 50 people a day, and almost 18,000 citizens a year. NHTSA and its partners are working together to put a stop to these deadly statistics."
-- NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) radio spot, July, 2003.

"Impaired driving can be defined as a reduction in the performance of critical driving tasks due to the effects of alcohol or other drugs. It is a serious crime that kills every 30 minutes."
-- NHTSA definition, from the NHTSA web site. 2

According to the American Motorists Association, this nearly three-fold exaggeration of drunk-driving-caused fatalities has been perpetuated by the press, perverted judicial decisions, created arbitrary legal standards, warped enforcement priorities, and economically and socially harmed millions of decent, responsible people.

The American Motorists Association says it's time to put an end to what it considers a deliberate campaign of misinformation.


  • 1. DeJong, William. What’s in a name? Let me count the ways. Prevention File, 2004, 18(2), 2-5. In reality, the federal definition casts an even wider net because no evidence at all is required to categorize someone as having a .01 BAC level. All that’s required is the suspicion of such a level. In some states, an officer checks a box indicating the suspicion of alcohol or drug involvement. Even if it is drug use (not alcohol use) that is suspected, a check in that box is automatically categorized as an alcohol-related accident! And what constitutes suspicion? Commonly, it’s an empty alcohol beverage container on the shoulder of the road near the crash that may have been tossed out the window of a passing vehicle and is completely unrelated to the accident. At the end of the year, the federal government then estimates or guesses how many alcohol-related accidents its very wide net has presumably missed and then substantially increases the numbers by thousands.
  • 2. National Motorists Association website,