Interpreting Alcohol-Related Traffic Fatality Statistics

The number of alcohol-related traffic deaths increased by 19 fatalities between 2001 and 2002 (17,00 to 17,419), according the official estimate of the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA). Of course, every single alcohol-related or other traffic fatality is a disaster and we must continue to reduce such accidents.

In absolute numbers, that’s an increase of about one-one thousandth percent, or as the Associate Press reported, it was “up slightly.” Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) reported that alcohol-related traffic fatalities increased as part of a growing epidemic.

Because the NHTSA statistic is an estimate that is assumed to vary either higher or lower than the true number by an unknown degree, statistically-speaking it is unchanged. Therefore, Reuters News Service reported that alcohol-related traffic fatalities “remained unchanged.”

No one reported that, because passenger-miles driven increased by over two billion miles during the same period, according to NHTSA, alcohol-related traffic fatalities continued their long-term decline in terms of miles driven. That is, fatality rates continued to decline.

Regardless of interpretation, we need to continue our efforts to reduce both alcohol-related and other driving fatalities.


  • USDOT Releases 2002 Highway Fatality Statistics, USDOT pres release, 7-17-03 (available at National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website,
  • SUV rollover fatalities increase 14 percent. Washington Times, 7-18-03, A-11 (Reuters News Agency)
  • Durbin, D-A. Traffic Deaths Increase, Injuries Fall, The Associated Press, 7-17-03
  • MADD Responds to Release of Updated NHTSA Traffic Death Statistics with Specific Call to Action, Mothers Against drunk Driving (MADD) press release, 7-17-03.

Filed Under: Drinking and Driving