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Tax Day May Drive Up Fatal Crash Rates

TUESDAY, April 10 (HealthDay News) — The upcoming income tax
filing deadline might be taxing in more ways than one for Americans: A new
study suggests that fatal crashes jump on Tax Day, possibly as a result of
last-minute filers carelessly rushing to the post office to mail their
returns.

The study’s lead author said the research indicates that “stressful
deadlines lead to driver distraction and human error.”

“Almost all of these crashes could have been totally avoided by a small
change in driver behavior. An awareness of this risk could lead to better
road safety,” said Dr. Donald A. Redelmeier, a professor of medicine at
the University of Toronto.

But others who study traffic said it’s hard to understand what the
findings mean since other possibilities, such as more cars on the road,
rather than lots of people too revved up to pay attention, could drive up
crash statistics on Uncle Sam’s big pay day.

“The problem with announcing that any one day has a greater-than-normal
number of traffic crashes is that often, when adjusted for the higher
number of travelers, the crash rate isn’t actually higher than a typical
weekend day,” said Tom Vanderbilt, author of the book “Traffic: Why We
Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us).”

For the new study, published in the April 11 issue of the Journal of
the American Medical Association
, Redelmeier and a colleague examined
a database of fatal U.S. traffic accidents from 1980 to 2009. They looked
specifically at crashes on the date taxes were due and the same day the
week before and the week after.

While the federal government’s typical filing deadline is April 15, it
falls on Tuesday, April 17, this year.

Although the risk of dying on Tax Day is extremely small, it’s a bit
higher than on the other days. The researchers found an average of 226
fatal accidents on annual tax-due days compared to 213 on the other days.
The increased risk is about 6 percent.

Increased risk was greatest for people younger than 65, the researchers
said.

Redelmeier, who has investigated traffic fatality rates on other
special days, said Tax Day is about as risky on the roads as Super Bowl
Sunday. In 2008, he also reported that fatal crashes are more likely
during polling hours on presidential election days, compared to other
Tuesdays around the same time.

He said he thinks stress is the accelerator here. “It doesn’t just hold
on Tax Day but might also hold to other distinctly stressful times, such
as when you’re going through a divorce or something is wrong with your
child or you’ve just lost your job,” he said.

Chandra Bhat, a professor of transportation engineering at University
of Texas at Austin, raised questions about the study. For one thing, he
said, the study finds that people under the age of 18 are involved in more
fatal crashes on Tax Day. It’s not clear if they’re passengers or drivers,
he said, adding that if they’re drivers, it’s unlikely the crash increase
is related to the tax deadline.

Traffic accidents are such relatively rare events that a one-day
period of observation may be inadequate to make conclusive observations,”
Bhat cautioned. “While I appreciate that the analysis design followed by
the authors is quite good and that the authors have considered several
years in their analysis, I still would be somewhat cautious in drawing
conclusions.”

Since the study didn’t account for factors such as sleep deprivation,
the authors recommend additional research that would ultimately beef up
efforts aimed at prevention.

For now, they said, drivers should be reminded to wear seat belts,
drive the posted speed limit and avoid alcohol on April 17.

More information

For more about traffic
safety
, see the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

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