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Study Finds Increased Risk of Fatal Accidents on Tax Day

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IRS Form 1040

Drivers might want to be especially careful behind the wheel this coming Tuesday (April 17). That is the last day Americans have to file their 2011 income tax this year, and a study published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds there is a 6% greater likelihood that a driver will be involved in a fatal car accident on that day.

As Reuters reports in the Chicago Tribune, a study done by the University of Toronto’s Sunnybrook Research Institute found that 6,783 people were killed on tax-deadline days versus a total of 12,758 on other days. To conduct the study, researchers compiled the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) traffic accident statistics from 1980 to 2009 and matched the crashes that took place on tax deadline days against those that took place one week before and after.

“Tax days are associated with an increase in fatal crash risk, which is similar in magnitude to the increase in crashes on Super Bowl Sunday,” wrote study authors Dr. Donald Redelmeier and Christopher Yarnell of the University of Toronto. Redelmeier told CNNMoney writer Aaron Smith: “One explanation is that stressful deadlines lead to driver distraction and worsen short-term human error.”

Smith writes that sleep deprivation, greater use of alcohol, lower tolerance for other drivers, and the “unwanted distraction” of filing taxes could all contribute to the increase in accidents, according to Redelmeier.

“Even if you file early, it does not mean that you are immune to the phenomenon, because of the shared nature of most roadway crashes,” said Dr. Redelmeier. “You are surrounded by other drivers, any one of whom could change your life forever.”

According to Redelmeier, Smith reports, the advent of electronic filing has not had an effect on lowering the number of fatal crashes, “possibly because it gives taxpayers the impression that they can wait until the last minute.”

As Scott Hensley writes for NPR’s health blog, Shots:

The researchers say it’s probably worth some public health campaigns to remind people about driving safely on Tax Day.

You could also file early or electronically and just stay home.

Image by bradleygee (Bradley Gordon), used under its Creative Commons license.


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