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It’s 2017 … Where’s the latest data?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the U.S. 35,092 people lost their lives in motor vehicle crashes on our nation’s roadways in 2015, a 7.2 percent increase from 2014. The percentage increase represents the largest increase in nearly 50 years. However, it’s 2017, and you want to know what happened in 2016. Currently, the latest available data from NHTSA is 2015.

The 2015 data was released in August 2016, earlier than it had been released in the past decade. But despite the early reporting of the data, to many it seems old upon release. The collection, reporting and aggregation is a complicated process that involves information from two NHTSA databases – the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) and the National Automotive Sampling System General Estimates System (GES). FARS data contains data on crashes in which someone was killed and GES contains a nationally representative sample of police-reported crashes of all severities.

FARS is the source used for alcohol-related traffic fatality data and FARS Analysts code more than 100 data elements from all states and territories. The process is long and detailed and throughout there are programs continually monitoring and improving the completeness and accuracy of the data. The 2015 data used in the 2015 State of Drunk Driving Fatalities in America was generated from the FARS data file in October 2016 but the 2015 FARS file was not officially closed until January 2017. The updated final fatal traffic crash data for 2015 will not be reflected until the 2016 data is released later this year.

NHTSA and other traffic safety organizations have released preliminary estimates on 2016 traffic fatalities. However, they do not release complete data. Specifically missing from these preliminary estimates is detailed alcohol-related traffic fatality data and state level data.

Additionally, underage drinking data is reported with somewhat of a lag due to the timing of the data collection – when students are in school. The Monitoring the Future (MTF) study is the only survey reporting student data in the same school year it is collected, while the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) is reported with a one-year delay. National data for both studies tracks closely and is typically released during at the beginning (NSDUH) and end (MTF) of the fall school semester. However, state-level data is not released at that same time as the national data creating a further discrepancy with the latest available data and the current calendar year.

The information presented in our annual statistics report and interactive map reflect the most complete and update data. We hope this information and available statistics will serve as useful resources to those committed to the effort to eliminate drunk driving and underage drinking.

Maureen Dalbec, Vice President of Research at Responsibility.org, and her husband are proud parents of two college age children. In her free time she enjoys running and swimming and occasionally competing in triathlons as well as volunteering in her community.

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