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