Why Blood Alcohol Concentration Testing and Reporting Is So Important

January 28, 2016|4:51 p.m.| Jane Esworthy

In 2014, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) fatality analysis reporting system (FARS), 9,967 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, and 6,852 of those individuals were drivers with blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) of .08 or higher. These alcohol-impaired driving fatalities accounted for 31 percent of all U.S. motor vehicle traffic fatalities in 2014. Alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities were highest in Texas (1,446), followed by California (882) and Florida (685), and lowest in the District of Columbia (5).

BAC testing and reporting has become very important in helping states, NHTSA, and safety partners understand the underlying factors of fatalities related to alcohol-impaired driving crashes and design solutions on local, state, and federal levels. Each year, states are required to report information to FARS on every fatal motor vehicle crash, including information on BAC for involved drivers, which is provided by the police or a medical examiner, coroner, or hospital. However, not all drivers involved in fatal accidents are tested for alcohol, as driver BAC level testing and reporting varies greatly by state due to differences in state laws, policies, procedures, training, and communication.

BAC testing and reporting provides states with helpful information and data regarding the circumstances surrounding death, it allows states to be better equipped for legal cases, and it can help with road design and public education about community trends. Crash and BAC data are also necessary to evaluate programs’ effectiveness in lowering the number of fatalities and injuries from impaired driving.

To improve BAC testing and reporting, public health agencies can:

  • Promote the importance of testing all drivers involved in accidents at which there is a fatality.
  • Reinforce state reporting procedures so that BAC is received by FARS analysts.
  • Encourage stakeholders to report BAC results to FARS so that state data reflects program success in lowering the number of fatalities in communities.

Several states are leading the way in BAC testing and reporting using techniques to improve collection and dissemination rates:

Indiana – Electronic Records

FARS analysts have access to two systems, an electronic system for crashes where law enforcement officers enter crash reports (Automatic Records Exchange System) and CoronerME, which is a web-based case management software program where coroners enter blood test results.  .

Missouri – Education and Training

All new coroners attend a formal training in which FARS analysts participate and supply the coroners with free blood test kits.

Alaska – Open Communication

The state has nurtured a strong relationship between the state medical examiners and the Alaska Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory. This partnership leads to timely analysis of blood samples and dissemination back to medical examiners by laboratory analysts.

Maryland – Missing Data Collection Strategies

A Maryland Automated Accident Records System analyst compares its BAC information with a FARS analyst for each fatal car crash from the previous year to eliminate discrepancies and fill in any missing data.

For more information on preventing motor vehicle injuries, visit ASTHO's web page.

Jane Esworthy is director of communications at ASTHO.