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A new study concludes the role of alcohol in traffic deaths in the United States may be significantly underreported on death certificates.

Researchers found that just over 3 percent of the 450,000 death certificates for people who died in traffic accidents between 1999 to 2009 listed alcohol as a contributing cause. Based on data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the researchers found 21 percent of those deaths involved people who were legally drunk, according to MedicalXpress.

The findings are published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

It is important to have a clear idea of alcohol’s role in young people’s deaths, according to researcher Ralph Hingson of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Knowing how many people die in alcohol-related crashes will help researchers study the effects of policies designed to reduce alcohol-related deaths, he said. “You want to know how big the problem is, and if we can track it,” Hingson said in a news release. “Is it going up, or going down? And what policy measures are working?”

Some states, including Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, and New Jersey, rarely listed alcohol on death certificates. Other states, including Delaware, Iowa, Kansas, and Minnesota, listed alcohol more frequently.

Alcohol may be left off death certificates because coroners or medical examiners don’t want to wait to get blood-alcohol test results back before filing a death certificate, the researchers said. While death certificates usually must be filed within three to five days, toxicology results may take longer.


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