Alcohol's contribution to fatal injuries: A report on public perceptions

Deborah C. Girasek, Andrea C. Gielen, Gordon S. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Study objective: We determine whether members of the public understand that alcohol contributes to each of the leading causes of unintentional-injury death in the United States and not just to motor vehicle-related fatalities. Public opinions of selected alcohol control policies were also assessed. Methods: We used a national telephone survey of 943 adults, who were selected by random-digit dialing techniques. Respondents' mean estimates of alcohol's involvement in fatal injuries were compared with published data from a meta-analysis of medical examiner data. Results: The study population accurately estimated the proportion of fatal fall, drowning, and poisoning victims who were legally drunk when they died. Respondents overestimated the proportion of drivers killed in motor vehicle crashes who were intoxicated and underestimated the proportion of fire/burn victims. Fifty-seven percent of participants endorsed the myth that alcohol intoxication is protective against injury in the event of a motor vehicle crash. Participants were divided over whether increasing the legal drinking age to 21 had resulted in fewer injury deaths. Seventy-eight percent of participants did not believe that raising alcohol taxes would reduce fatal injuries. A majority (58%) of respondents supported taking blood alcohol levels on all "seriously injured" patients brought to the hospital. Conclusion: This report suggests that public awareness of alcohol's contribution to the breadth of the injury problem in the United States is high. Conversely, public understanding of whether prevention strategies have proven to be effective is poor. Emergency medicine practitioners can serve as credible sources of more accurate information for patients and the community at large.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)622-630
Number of pages9
JournalAnnals of Emergency Medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes


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