Increasing Alcohol Taxes Decreases Fatal Car Crashes

APRIL 06, 2015
Meghan Ross, Associate Editor
Following a state alcohol tax hike in 2009, the number of fatal alcohol-related vehicle crashes in Illinois decreased by 26%.

If other states copied this taxation boost, it could save thousands of lives annually across the nation, a team of researchers recently concluded.

The American Journal of Public Health study examined driver blood alcohol concentration (BAC) tests from 104 months before the alcohol tax increase and 28 months after it was enacted.
The act raised taxes on beer by 4.6 cents per gallon, on wine by 66 cents per gallon, and on distilled spirits by $4.05 per gallon.

The researchers found that fatal crashes decreased by nearly 10 per month following the tax increase. A 22% reduction was also found among alcohol-impaired drivers with BAC <0.15%, and a 25% reduction was found among drivers with high BAC ≥0.15%.

Drivers aged <30 years saw larger declines (by 37%) compared with drivers aged ≥30 years (by 23%). Gender and race stratifications did not differ significantly, according to the researchers. 

 “While our study confirms what dozens of earlier studies have found—that an increase in alcohol taxes reduces drinking and reduces alcohol-related health problems—what is unique is that we identified that alcohol taxes do, in fact, impact the whole range of drinking drivers, including extremely drunk drivers,” said Alexander C. Wagenaar, PhD, a professor in the department of health outcomes and policy at the University of Florida College of Medicine, in a press release. “This goes against the conventional wisdom of many economists, who assert that heavy drinkers are less responsive to tax changes, and has powerful implications for how we can keep our communities safer.”

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