Executive Summary

Fatalities resulting from traffic crashes in Kentucky increased from a low of 638 in 2013 to 834 in 2016 (a 31% increase), and there is not a full understanding of the underlying causes for this trend. This study analyzes fatal crashes using data from both Kentucky’s crash reports and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Fatal Accident Reporting System (FARS) to identify countermeasures to combat increasing fatal crash rates. In addition, this study compares Kentucky’s crash reports to the fatal crash data in FARS to identify data inconsistencies and recommend procedures to eliminate these inconsistencies.

Emphasis was placed on fatal crashes involving alcohol and drugs because police-reported crash data in Kentucky do not clearly represent the magnitude of alcohol- and drug-related fatal crashes. More detailed analysis of fatal crashes involving alcohol and drugs provides an understanding of the patterns of impaired drivers in terms of their overall characteristics, crash locations, time of day, types of drugs, and other identifying factors that affect patterns and behavior.

The study identified crashes involving mature drivers (65+) and lane departure crashes as fatal crash types with the greatest increases since 2013. Pedestrian, motorcycle, intersection, and impairment-related fatal crashes also demonstrated increasing fatal crash rates in 2016. Analysis of restraint use showed that almost 54% of the fatally injured people in 2016 were not wearing a seatbelt when one was available to them. Of those fatally injured in a motorcycle crash, nearly 72% were not wearing a helmet.

Based on FARS data, there were 160 fatal crashes in Kentucky in which a driver tested positive for alcohol and 266 fatal crashes where a driver tested positive for at least one drug. The drugs most frequently found in drivers were tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), hydrocodone, and Xanax. In general, fatal crash frequency spiked during the morning and afternoon peak hour periods, with fatalities occurring more frequently between 11 am and 11 pm. The percent of potentially impaired (alcohol- and drug-involved) fatal crashes increased between 5 pm and 4 am from around 40% to a peak of 81% at 4 am.

Eastern Kentucky was identified as a region with high fatal crash rates and potentially impaired fatal crash rates. Both Ballard and Union Counties in Western Kentucky showed high fatality and potentially impaired fatality rates as well.

Comparisons between the FARS database and Kentucky’s crash reports revealed inconsistencies between the date, time, location, injury severity, and impairment indications in the two databases. Recommendations stemming from this study were divided into four categories: enforcement, legislation/licensing, public involvement, and data collection. The recommendations are aimed at reducing crash fatalities, improving crash data collection, and improving consistency between Kentucky’s crash reports and the national FARS database.

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© 2018 University of Kentucky, Kentucky Transportation Center

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The contents of this report reflect the views of the authors, who are responsible for the facts and accuracy of the data presented herein. The contents do not necessarily reflect the official views or policies of the University of Kentucky, the Kentucky Transportation Center, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, the United States Department of Transportation, or the Federal Highway Administration. This report does not constitute a standard, specification, or regulation. The inclusion of manufacturer names or trade names is for identification purposes and should not be considered an endorsement.