Fatal crashes spike on U.S. tax day

U. TORONTO (CAN) — Drivers in the U.S. are more prone to fatal car accidents on income tax deadline day—typically April 15—than on normal days, new research shows.

The risk, which is also higher for pedestrians and passengers, extends across different areas of the country, daylight hours, demographic groups, and alcohol consumption.

“The increased risk could be the result of stressful deadlines leading to driver distraction and human error,” says Donald Redelmeier, professor of medicine at the University of Toronto. “Other possibilities might be more driving, sleep deprivation, lack of attention and less tolerance toward hassles.


“Another contributor could be decreased law enforcement as the police, themselves, might be busy with their own tax deadlines.”

Redelmeier and colleage Christopher Yarnell used road safety information for the entire United States from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for thirty years (1980 through 2009) to examine the number of fatal crashes on each tax deadline day as well as the same weekday one week before and after to control for prevailing risks.

Their analysis, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, shows a total of 19,541 individuals involved in fatal crashes during the 30 tax days and 60 control days. The 30 tax days accounted for 6,783 individuals, equivalent to 226 per day.

In contrast, there were a total of 12,758 individuals during the 60 control days, equivalent to 213 per day. Hence, the risk was 6 percent higher on income tax deadline day and equal to an absolute increase of 404 deaths over the study or about 13 individuals for the average tax day.

The greatest increases in risk with tax deadlines were during the last twenty years and mostly related to working age adults younger than 65.

Risks could be mitigated by simple measures such as reminding patients of the importance of safe driving, the researchers said.  Basic instructions include emphasizing the need to wear seatbelts, avoid excessive speed, minimize distractions, and avoid alcohol.  Almost all fatal crashes can be avoided by a small change in driver behavior.

“The increased risk of fatal crashes on tax deadline days imparts a substantial cost to society,” says Redelmeier. “In theory, the net losses equate to about $40 million in societal costs that could mathematically negate the income tax payments of about 5,000 average Americans each year.”

The study was supported by the Canada Research Chair in Medical Decision Science and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

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