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Tax Day and Car Accidents: Does Stress Result in Distracted Driving?

Friday, April 10th, 2015 By

What does the date April 15 mean to you? Maybe it’s your mom’s birthday, or the day you got married, or the day your baby was born. But, for many Americans, April 15 is just tax day. The day your hard-earned money goes to the government; the day you have to send out all that dreaded paperwork laden with income tax. The days leading up to tax day, and tax day itself, can be stressful and anxiety inducing. These days force us to think about our income and economic status, how much we need and how much is going to disappear from our bank accounts. You probably know all this, but have you ever thought about how the feelings you get on tax day might affect your behavior and ability to function?

Canadian researchers thought about it. A study of 30 years of records from the Fatality Analysis Reporting system, which is maintained by the National Highway traffic Safety administration, revealed that tax day is a dangerous time to be behind the wheel. The system tallies every single car crash in the U.S. that results in at least one death within thirty days of the accident, and researchers in Toronto found that there were more deaths on tax day.

According to the LA Times, the researchers looked up the number of motor vehicle deaths for every tax day between 1980 and 2009, and victims include drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and others who were in the wrong place at the wrong time (or should we say, on the wrong day?). The result? About 13 more deaths on tax day than on a typical weekday, which may not seem like a lot but is significant because it happens on this very specific day. That number amounts to about a 6 percent increase in death by car accident in one single day.

All told, the total number of extra deaths on tax days over this thirty-year period was 404. That’s a lot of people lost on tax day. The data doesn’t reveal exactly why there are more crashes and fatalities on tax day, but there’s an educated guess: stress.

The most likely explanation is that drivers are stressed and anxious about their taxes and are therefore distracted, which results in more careless driving habits. To make things worse, last minute tax filers may be running on too few hours of sleep after staying up late to finish 1040s. Driving while sleep deprived is similar to driving under the influence of alcohol. Thus, it is clear that the stress of tax day has an immediate affect on people’s health and increases the chance of fatal human error behind the wheel in particular.

The researchers calculated the financial impact of these results and found that the health risks associated with the accidents on tax day cost American society $40 million. That’s enough money to replace the income taxes paid by 5,000 Americans. Who knew?

Tax day isn’t the only day that the number of fatal car accidents increase.

A study by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that more people are involved in a fatal car accident on Presidential Election Day. On this day, an average increase of 24 individuals per election (compared to other days out of the year) were involved in a fatal accident. That’s a pretty significant increase; at least Presidential elections only happen once every four years.

These researchers theorized a few different causes for the increase. One might be an increase in average driving speed—people rushing to the polls to put their vote in. Others might include driver inattention (thinking about which candidate might come out on top, possibly), rerouting (taking unfamiliar routes to access polls), decreased police presence on the roads, and an increase in unfit drivers on the road who are only driving because they want to vote. According to the researchers, these potential explanations can extend to car crashes of lesser severity, meaning the U.S. Presidential Election might also result in hundreds of individuals with nonfatal injuries from car accidents.

Maybe less surprising, Super Bowl Sunday is another day on the American calendar when fatal car accidents increase. Published in the New England journal of Medicine, researchers found that there is a 43 percent increase in fatal crashes on Super Bowl Sunday after the game. The number of crashes was generally larger in states with a losing team, and lower in states with a winning team (compared to neutral states).

The relative increase of fatal car crashes on this day is greater than on New Year’s Eve, when parties and alcohol are rampant. Why? When your team loses, you might be lost in thought on the way home about the plays that lead to the defeat—that’s not to mention the few brews you might have had during the game. These types of stresses and distractions cause accidents.

Is there any way to stop these increases on days of stress, anxiety, and decision-making? Well, the Canadian researchers who conducted the study on tax day state that as long as people are getting behind the wheel while thinking about tax returns, the risk will remain. The same is likely true for the other days—when our minds are on other concerns, they aren’t on the road or how well we’re driving.

One suggestion from the tax researchers is to simplify the U.S. tax code so it doesn’t stress people out so much to file taxes. The size of the tax code nearly tripled over the thirty year period of the study, which might explain why the amount of fatal accidents was more in the later twenty years of the study than in the first ten.

Bottom line? When you’re distracted while driving, you’re more likely to be in an accident. Similar to texting or talking on the phone while driving, concerning ourselves with sporting events, taxes, and elections takes our mind off the important task at hand: keeping yourself, and others, safe on the road. Be aware of yourself and your state of mind before you get behind the wheel on tax day or any other stressful day. If you’re really stressed or anxious, avoid driving until you can focus.

Nothing can completely stop car accidents and fatalities from happening, but being aware of particularly risky days on the roadways is a good start. Take care to buckle up and keep your eyes on the road at all times, especially on Election Day, tax day, or Super Bowl Sunday.

If you’ve been injured in a car accident and have questions about next steps, don’t hesitate to contact the experienced car accident attorneys at DuBoff & Associates, Chartered.


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