Validity of police-reported alcohol involvement in fatal motor carrier crashes in the United States between 1982 and 2005

Department of Emergency Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland 21209, USA.
Journal of safety research (Impact Factor: 1.34). 02/2009; 40(3):227-32. DOI: 10.1016/j.jsr.2009.04.001
Source: PubMed


To examine the validity of police-reported alcohol data for drivers involved in fatal motor carrier crashes.
We determined the availability of blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and police-reported alcohol data on 157,702 drivers involved in fatal motor carrier crashes between 1982 - 2005 using Fatality Analysis and Reporting System (FARS) data. Drivers were categorized as motor carrier drivers if they operated a vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating of greater than 26,000 pounds. Otherwise, they were classified as non motor carrier drivers. The sensitivity and specificity of police-reported alcohol involvement were estimated for both driver types.
Of the 157,702 drivers, 18% had no alcohol information, 15% had BAC results, 42% had police-reported alcohol data, and 25% had both. Alcohol information varied significantly by driver, crash, and vehicle characteristics. For example, motor carrier drivers were significantly more likely (51%) to have BAC testing results compared to non motor carrier drivers (31%) (p<0.001). The sensitivity of police-reported alcohol involvement for a BAC level>or=0.08 was 83% (95% CI 79%, 86%) for motor carrier drivers and 90% (95% CI 89%, 90%) for non motor carrier drivers. The specificity rates were 96% (95% CI 95%, 96%) and 91% (95% CI 90%, 91%), respectively.
The sensitivity and specificity of police-reported alcohol involvement are reasonably high for drivers involved in fatal motor carrier crashes. Further research is needed to determine the extent to which the accuracy of police-reported alcohol involvement may be overestimated because of verification bias. IMPACT ON THE INDUSTRY: Based on the results of this study, the federal government should continue to work with states to strengthen their strategies to increase chemical testing of all drivers involved in fatal crashes.

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