AUSTIN (KXAN) — An October Vision Zero report found state crash reports undercounted the prevalence in drug and alcohol use in Austin traffic fatality victims compared to toxicology analyses from the Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office.
The research analyzed findings from TCME and compared it to analysis collected by the Texas Department of Transportation’s crash records information system database, with those typically referred to as CR-3 forms. While Vision Zero’s analysis doesn’t mean the presence of drugs or alcohol was “a causal factor in all of these crashes,” program officials stressed the need to consider more than just crash reports when looking for trends in fatal traffic crashes.
Between Jan. 1, 2018 and Dec. 31, 2022, Vision Zero found there were 448 fatal crash victims within Austin’s jurisdiction in Travis County. When broken down, that includes 12 cyclist fatalities, 56 passenger fatalities, 38 motorcyclist fatalities, 175 pedestrian fatalities, 161 driver fatalities and six micromobility fatalities.
Findings revealed stark contrast in the prevalence of drugs and alcohol in crash victims reported via TCME toxicology analyses compared to state ones.
TCME reports found a blood alcohol content at or above .08 or a positive result for drugs in the crash victim’s system 77% of the time, with no alcohol or drug use reported 21% of the time. Comparatively, CR-3 crash reports reported a blood alcohol content at or above .08 or a positive result for drugs in the victim’s system 30% of the time, with no alcohol or drug use detected 70% of the time.
Vision Zero’s report noted some possible reasons behind the discrepancies, including the fact that crash reports don’t always allow for toxicology reporting for non-drivers. Sometimes, officers might not update a CR-3 report if the person killed is assumed to be at fault and didn’t kill or injure anyone else.
CR-3 forms also don’t have a designated space to report whether alcohol or drug use was prevalent among passengers or anyone aside from the driver of the vehicle or unit, which leads to underreporting on the full extent of drug and alcohol use among crash victims. These fatal crash victims detailed in Vision Zero’s analysis include anyone killed in a traffic-related crash, including a passenger, cyclist or pedestrian; as a result, toxicology reports aren’t always made available for these individuals.
Through TCME’s five-year reporting analysis, it found the three most common drugs found in a victim’s system who tested positive for them were THC, amphetamines and cocaine. Anyone with a blood alcohol content level at or higher than .08 was marked as having presence of alcohol in their system, while anyone below the legal limit was not included as a positive result.
“However, unless someone is driving a motor vehicle, it is not necessarily illegal for a person, such as a pedestrian or passenger, to have a BAC at or above .08,” the report read in part.
When evaluating the report, Vision Zero officials said they are working with the Austin Police Department’s vehicular homicide unit “to update all fatal crash reports consistently moving forward so that the crash data more accurately capture the extent to which drugs and alcohol are present in fatal crash victims.”
That update process is currently manual, with Vision Zero noting efforts to try and automate the system moving forward.
The complete report is available online.