When Taxes and Cars Collide

Road Fatalities Surge Around April 15

Great thinkers have quipped that life offers few certainties other than death and taxes, and for an alarming number of U.S. drivers, these two seem oddly intertwined.

A new study published in today's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) suggests that “Tax Day” pressures and stressors create real risk for those navigating the roads. After analyzing 30 years of data, researchers found that auto fatalities ramp up around April 15—the customary deadline to file U.S. income tax—when compared to a day during the week prior and week later.

Dr. Donald Redelmeier, a professor of medicine at Canada's largest trauma center, led the study with University of Toronto colleague Christopher Yarnell. Specifically, Redelmeier said the surge in fatalities could possibly be attributed to stressful deadlines that cause driver distraction and human errors.

“Other possibilities might be more driving [than usual], sleep deprivation, lack of attention, and less tolerance toward hassles,” he adds. “Another contributor could be decreased law enforcement, as the police, themselves, might be busy with their own tax deadlines.”

The last-minute scramble assuredly creates a veritable obstacle course of cars whizzing by and pedestrians who are oblivious to surroundings, but what about those opting to submit forms online? Surprisingly, with added capability of electronic processing or what some refer to as “e-file,” has failed to put a dent in such fatalities.

Drawing from road safety information supplied by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for a period of 30 years (1980 through 2009), Redelmeier and Yarnell examined the number of fatal crashes on each tax deadline day as well as the surrounding days and weeks. In doing so, the researchers observed a total of 19,541 individuals were involved in fatal crashes during the 30 tax days and 60 control days. The 30 tax days accounted for 6,783 individuals, which is equivalent to 226 per day.

By contrast, Redelmeier and Yarnell identified a total of 12,758 individuals during the 60 control days, which is equivalent to 213 per day. The risk therefore was six-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 increased propensity toward being invovled in an accident was not restricted to certain regions of the U.S. Rather, Tax Day-related risks apply to passengers and pedestrians across daylight hours, demographic groups, and levels of alcohol consumption.

Both researchers stress the importance of taking additional safety precautions on April 17 this year to save lives and millions in associated claims and other costs to society.

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

 

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