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COLLEGE OF AMERICAN PATHOLOGISTS / ALFRED S. ERCOLANO, Director
1101 VERMONT AVE., N.W. / SUITE 401
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20005
January 19, 1984
We enclose for your information a recent news release that addresses a major health and safety concern that of alcohol related traffic deaths. The College of American Pathologists recently developed a news feature detailing studies in four states showing that alcohol-related accidents resulting in death are much higher than generally reported.
Stimulated by the reaction of a Minnesota pathologist who heard a national television newscast give a much lower figure than his own experience, the studies demonstrate the first-hand, daily awareness of the magnitude of the problem as seen by pathologists performing autopsies as medical examiners or as hospital-based community pathologists.
The response to our article has been phenomenal, generating hundreds of newspaper articles, coverage on Cable News Network and CBS and Mutual Radio Network, as well as calls from James Fell of the National Traffic Safety Administration, the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, anti-drunk driving groups, state legislators and legislative staff, television stations, üniversities, libraries, and private citizens.
Recognizing the importance of the subject and knowing that you share the College's concern about alcohol-related traffic deaths in this country, we would like to encourage distribution of this information and are happy to provide access to our member pathologists' expertise in this important issue.
The CAP is currently developing a survey of its 9,500 members to collect statistics for individual counties or states on alcohol-related traffic deaths. The survey will compile information on how and what information is collected and also ask whether the local area requires blood alcohol content tests (BACS).
For additional information, please contact Barbara Chapman, CAP, 7400 N. Skokie Blvd., Skokie, IL 60077, 312-677-3500, Ext. 457.
Alfted S. Ercolano
drinking/driving ad one
The statistics Dr. Nollet gave the news network that day were the justcompleted 1981 report, showing that of 31 accidents, only three were what Dr. Nollet calls "real accidents" -- cases were no one involved had been drinking or was intoxicated. of the 28 persoas killed, six were completely innocent victims, with blood alcohol content (BAC) tests showing no alcohol present.
Records kept during 1982 and 1983 Indicate "nothing has changed percentagewise," Dr. Nollet reports, "despite the fact that the number of accidents is down slightly. The level of lovolvement of alcohol in those accidents that do occur rema ios extremely high."
Dr. Nollet believes what he finds concerning alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents to his county is "not that different from what is occurring elsewhere in the country. I don't believe people here drink more than people anywhere else," he says. "I think whatever is true here is true throughout the nation."
The Minnesota pathologist's observations appear to be valid. A recently completed study of motor vehicle accidents during 1982 in Fulton County, Georgia reveals that in 46 accidents in which BACs were taken of the persons involved, 42 - or 91 per cent -- of the drivers had been drinking and 39 or 84 per cent were legally intoxicated.
Says County Medical Examiner Robert R. Stivers, M.D. in Atlanta: "Medical examiners have said for years that the rate of alcohol involvement in motor vehicle accidents is far higher than has been supposed. Now we are beginning to collect data that can provide more conclusive and effective information. We're coming up with documented figures of 91 per cent. That scares people, and I think that's part of our job to make the public aware of what is taking place on our streets and highways."
Joseph C. Rupp, M.D., Medical Examiner for Nueces County in Texas, confirms what Doctors Nollet and Suivers report. "Our death rate in multiple vehicle accidents shows alcohol involvement in more than 50 per cent of the cases," he reports. "But then if you consider only the driver at fault in fatal accidents, and single vehicle accident fatalities, we would approach 90 to 100 per cent alcohol-related tocidents.
"I would wager It is the same the nation over."
Page Hudson, M.D. serves as State Medical Examiner in North Carolina, one of only a few states with such an office.. "I would agree that the figures generally used are on the conservative side," dotes Dr. Hudson, who records statistics for all motor vehicle accidents in North Carolina.
"In driver fatalities resulting from single car crashes, legal intoxication levels are found about 65 per cent of the time. Add the drivers with alcohol at less than the legally presumptive intoxication concentration, which is .I grams per cent, and our totals would then approach 80 per cent of drivers killed."
Figures from a 1981-82 study of drivers in single vehicle accidents who died within an hour of the crash show 80 per cent had been drinking, with 68 per cent at the .l intoxication level. of the drivers killed ia muldple vehicle accidents, 34 per cent had been drinking, of which 25 per cent were intoxicated. Over the 13-year period 1970 through 1982, Dr. Hudson reports, 68 per cent of all fatalities resulting from single vehicle accidents or 2,745 of 4,038 drivers had been drinking, with 2,342 or 58 per cent intoxicated. Multiple vehicle accident statistics show that of 3,461 drivers killed, 1,211 or 35 per cent had been drinking, and 934 or 27 per cent were at the legal intoxication level.
The driver alcohol.use rate la fatalities due to multiple car accidents appears to run only about 40 per cent, Dr. Hudson suggests, "presumably because there are essentially innocent drivers who are killed by cars driven by persons who have been drinking but survive the accident.
However, Dr. Hudson adds, "there are certain times and situations where I would bet aine to one on alcohol being present in motor vehicle accidents. Ain example would be a Friday or Saturday night episode involving a single car crash where the driver is a male in his 20s. In 90 per cent of such cases, that accident might be alcohol-related."
One of the persons most surprised at the Fulton County findings is Ruth Berkelman, M.D., the medical epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta who directed the study there. Dr. Berkelman was serving a residency in preventive medicine with the Georgia Department of Human Resources when she became lavolved in the motor vehicle accident study. Her original thought was "to show the medical examiner's data base as something that public health personnel should be looking at as a part of preventive medicine efforts."
As she worked on the motor vehicle accident study, Dr. Berkelman became Locreasingly surprised "at the proportion of alcohol lavolvement la these cases. I believed it was a problems about half the time, but the statistics in Fulton County were showing me that a higher percentage was alcohol-related. In single vehicle accidents, 76 per cent of the drivers had been drinking, and in 94 per cent of the multiple vehicle accidents in which BACs were performed, results showed at least one driver had been drinking."
Through the SASU Board of Directors, whose members are elected from each of the colleges and universities mentioned above, over one-hundred and thirtythousand (130,000) students are represented. The SASU Board of Directors debates positions on issues and determines policy. Each of the member campuses and their representatives have voiced their opposition to the bill, H.R. 3870, for several
The most important reason is that a bill such as this, if enacted, would only serve to punish a large number of responsible people, in a weak effort to reach a very small number of abusive drinkers in this age group. SASU believes that there are more effective ways to help prevent the abusive drinker from causing accidents and injury.
The elected officials of SASU, from each of the member campuses, and the many students that they represent, who may choose to drink, are responsible, moderate drinkers. Only between half and three-quarters of all sixteen (16) to twenty-one (21) year-olds hold drivers' licenses (NYS Department of Motor Vehicles, 1982) and of these numbers, fewer own cars. From this population, the overwhelming najority are competent, mature drivers. New York State Department of Motor Vehicles Police Reported Accidents for 1982 show that only a tiny percentage of ALL licensed drivers aged sixteen (16) to twenty-one (21) were involved in alcohol-related accidents of all types. The data show this for each individual age:
only this small group were involved in these accidents. This means that LESS THAN ONE PERCENT (1%) of all licensed drivers in each age group mentioned above were involved in alcohol-related accidents in 1982. Conversely, it also means that over ninety-nine percent (99%) of licensed drivers in each of the age groups were NOT INVOLVED In alcohol-related accidents in 1982 - that the overwhelming majority of persons aged sixteen (16) to twenty-one (21) in New York State who have licenses drive competently and drink responsibly.
An additional argument against a national drinking age of twentyone (21) is that, as the rationale behind the bill is based upon alcohol-related driving incidents, it then becomes a discriminatory argument. Women have a much