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Estimating the Effect of Alcohol on Driver Risk Using Only Fatal Accident Statistics

  • Steven D. Levitt
  • Jack Porter

Measuring the relative likelihood of fatal crash involvement for different types of drivers would seem to require information on both the number of fatal crashes by driver type and the fraction of drivers on the road falling into each category. In this paper, however, we present a methodology for measuring fatal crash likelihood that relies solely on fatal crash data. The key to our identification strategy is the hidden richness inherent to two-car crashes. Crashes involving two drinking drivers are proportional to the square of the number of drinking drivers on the road; crashes with one drinking and one sober driver increase linearly in the number of drinking drivers. Imposing a limited set of assumptions (e.g. independence across crashes, equal mixing on the roads), we are able to estimate both the likelihood of causing a fatal crash and the fraction of drivers of each type on the road. Our estimates suggest that drivers with alcohol in their blood are at least eight times more likely to cause a fatal crash; legally drunk drivers pose a risk at least 15 times greater than sober drivers. Males, young drivers, and drivers with bad past driving records are all more dangerous, but the impact of these other factors is far less than that of alcohol.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w6944.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 6944.

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Date of creation: Feb 1999
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:6944
Note: PE LE
Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
Phone: 617-868-3900
Web page: http://www.nber.org
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  1. Ruhm, Christopher J., 1996. "Alcohol policies and highway vehicle fatalities," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 15(4), pages 435-454, August.
  2. Saffer, Henry & Grossman, Michael, 1987. "Drinking Age Laws and Highway Mortality Rates: Cause and Effect," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 25(3), pages 403-17, July.
  3. Flinn, C. & Heckman, J., 1982. "New methods for analyzing structural models of labor force dynamics," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 18(1), pages 115-168, January.
  4. Chaloupka, Frank J & Saffer, Henry & Grossman, Michael, 1993. "Alcohol-Control Policies and Motor-Vehicle Fatalities," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 22(1), pages 161-86, January.
  5. Philip J. Cook & George Tauchen, 1982. "The Effect of Liquor Taxes on Heavy Drinking," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 13(2), pages 379-390, Autumn.
  6. Michael Grossman & Frank J. Chaloupka & Henry Saffer & Adit Laixuthai, 1993. "Effects of Alcohol Price Policy on Youth," NBER Working Papers 4385, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Peter Asch & David T. Levy, 1987. "Does the minimum drinking age affect traffic fatalities?," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 6(2), pages 180-192.
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