Alcohol Taxes May Reduce Accidents Due to Drinking and Driving

April 6, 2015
Sadly, several car accidents occur each year, and many are due to drunk driving. Approximately 30 Americans die each day due to a car accident that involved drunk driving, which makes up more than 33 percent of all traffic-related accidents. Researchers at the University of Florida believe that raising taxes on alcohol may be able to lower the rate of drunk driving.

A small and significant change
The researchers discovered that when the taxes on alcohol such as wine, beer and liquor in Illinois rose, the amount of alcohol-related drunk driving accidents decreased. In 2009, Illinois decided to raise the tax on different types of alcohol. The state increased tax on wine by 66 cents per gallon, beer by 4.6 cents and spirits by $4.05 per gallon. With these changes, the rate of accidents lowered.

Accidents actually decreased by 26 percent in total, and by 37 percent among young drivers. They found that the percentage was similar among drivers, regardless of how inebriated they were.

30 Americans die each day due to a car accident that involved drunk driving.

They study authors examined fatal crash records from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration collected between January 2001 and December 2011. They also looked at several months before and after the taxes were implemented to find out if the type of driver changed at all. They decided that a driver who was mildly impaired had a blood alcohol level of less than .15, and a driver who had more was inebriated. A BAL higher than .15 measures out to about 6 drinks in the period of an hour.

However, there are several factors that may cause an accident, such as the weather. So the researchers controlled for these factors by looking at alcohol-related accidents and other car accidents within the same time period. They also looked at car accidents in Wisconsin, which were not affected by the rise in taxes. The findings still revealed that taxes were the cause behind the accident decrease.

A hopeful outlook
The study authors are excited about their findings, noting that if taxes are raised everywhere, it may change the detrimental effect drunk driving currently has. Policymakers in certain states may be overlooking one very easy way to lower the amounts of car accidents in their states. Simply raising taxes on this product may be the change many areas need.

“Similar alcohol tax increases implemented across the country could prevent thousands of deaths from car crashes each year,” lead author Alexandar Wagenaar, Ph.D., said.

Currently, the costs of alcohol have lowered, making people purchase greater amounts of it, and possibly drinking more of it. In the U.S., the cost of alcohol has lowered so significantly due to minimal taxes on it. The researchers noted that in 1951, to purchase 10 drinks a day, a person would spend about half of their income. Today, that ratio is much different. They believe this change in taxes may have been caused by the Great Recession, when may people were unemployed and the cost of living was higher.

The researchers hope these findings can lead to changes in the high rates of drinking and driving in the nation. Aside from keeping the roads safer, increasing alcohol taxes may also reduce drinking as a whole and lower binge drinking rates in the U.S., which also have been on the rise.

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