Epidemiology of Alcohol and Drug Screening Among Pedestrian Fatalities in the United States, 2014–2016

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Traffic Injury Prevention






Objective: U.S. pedestrian fatalities increased by 25% between 2010 and 2015. Risk factors include distractions, the built environment, urbanization, economic variables, and weather conditions. Of interest is the role of alcohol and drugs in premature death among pedestrians. This study sought to explore the prevalence of substance use screenings among pedestrian fatalities in the United States between 2014 and 2016.

Methods: Data were collected from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System provided by the NHTSA. Pedestrian crash variables included demographics as well as information regarding alcohol or drug testing status. Frequency and cross-tabulation tables were constructed to assess the prevalence of screening by person, place, and time. Log-linear analyses were completed to explore age, race, and sex differences. A 3-year examination period was used to control for yearly fluctuations and to incorporate an increasing trend in cases.

Results: Pedestrian fatalities accounted for 84% of all deaths among vulnerable road users during the examination period. Those most at risk were white males between the ages of 45 and 64. Over all states, 74.7% of fatalities were tested for alcohol and 67.1% were tested for drugs; further, 66.5% of cases were tested for both alcohol and drugs and 24.8% were tested for neither substance. Cases screened for both alcohol and drugs ranged from 2.9% in North Carolina to 95.7% in Nevada and those testing for neither substance ranged from a high of 68.9% in Indiana to a low of 1.1% in Maryland. Log-linear regression revealed significant differences in alcohol screening by age and race but not by sex. Differences in drug screening were not identified for any demographic variable. Fatalities tested for alcohol were significantly more likely to be tested for drugs; only 8.2% were screened solely for alcohol and 0.05% were screened for drugs alone.

Conclusions: Preventive strategies become more important as pedestrian crashes and fatalities increase. Risk reduction in the form of policy change, alterations to the built environment, or interdisciplinary approaches to injury prevention is dependent upon best evidence supported in part by more deliberate and consistent screening.