Urban trauma centres have recently noted a shift in the causative mechanism of facial fractures away from motor vehicle crashes (MVC) to blunt assaults (BA). This study was conducted to examine the incidence and aetiology of facial fractures at our institution as well as the relationship with alcohol and protective device use. Trauma registry records of all patients admitted to a level I trauma centre from 1 January 1988 to 1 January 1999 were reviewed. There were 13594 trauma admissions during the 11-year period. Facial fractures were sustained by 1429 patients (10.5%) and this group forms the subject of this study. MVC was the predominant aetiology (59.9%) followed by BA (18.8%). Facial fractures were found in 9.5% of restrained MVC patients compared to 15.4% of unrestrained patients (P<0.00l). Non-helmeted motorcyclists were four times more likely to sustain facial fractures (4.3% vs. 18.4%) than helmeted patients (P<0.00l). 39.6% of patients in the MVC group were legally intoxicated compared to 73.5% in the BA group (P<0.00l). 45.4% of unrestrained patients with facial fractures were intoxicated compared to 11.8% of restrained MVC patients with facial fractures (P<0.001). MVC continue to be the primary aetiology of facial fractures in our trauma population. Protective devices decrease the incidence of facial fractures. Lack of protective device use and the consumption of alcohol correlate with sustaining facial fractures.