The best way to reduce fatal drunk driving-related car crashes? Increase the tax on alcohol. According to a new study from researchers at the University of Florida, fatal car crashes in which alcohol was involved decreased by 26 percent in Illinois after the state increased its taxes on beer, wine, and spirits in 2009. The effect was even more profound in "young people" where the number of accidents dropped by 37 percent. It also reduced the number of extreme drunk drivers — those with blood alcohol levels of .15 or above — involved in a crash by 25 percent.
The research team looked at "detailed records of fatal car crashes" from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from January 2001 to December 2011 for the study — which will be published in the forthcoming issue of American Journal of Public Health. They analyzed data from 104 months before the tax was raised and 28 months after it was enacted and controlled for other factors — such as weather — that could create a car crash. The results confirmed that "the decrease in crashes was due to the tax change" alone.
"Similar alcohol tax increases implemented across the country could prevent thousands of deaths from car crashes each year."
The drastic results are shocking considering that the tax increase was modest. Illinois raised its tax on beer by 4.6 cents per gallon, on wine by 66 cents per gallon, and on spirits by $4.05 per gallon. This resulted in a .4 cent increase on a glass of beer, .5 cent increased on a glass of wine, and 4.8 cent increase on a serving of liquor. Researchers say the the small tax increase may have had a large impact because it occurred during a recession when "unemployment was high and personal incomes [were] lower."
University of Florida professor Alexander C. Wagenaar notes that "similar alcohol tax increases implemented across the country could prevent thousands of deaths from car crashes each year." While a similar study has not been done with a junk food tax, some lawmakers are hoping it will convince people to make healthier food purchases. Starting this month, the Navajo Nation is adding a two percent sales tax on all foods with "minimal-to-no-nutritional value" like chips, soda, and desserts.