Benjamin Franklin famously said, “The only things certain in life are death and taxes.” A study released this week combines the two in a far more tangible way than Franklin ever could have guessed. The study shows a spike in traffic deaths on each of the last 30 tax days.
Spike in each of the last 30 years
According to an article published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, for each of the last 30 years, traffic death numbers rose by an average of 6 percent on tax filing day. For a control, the tax day numbers were compared to the same day a week before and the same day a week after.
According to the research, compiled and analyzed by Donald Redelmeier, a medical teacher at the University of Toronto in Canada, there were an average 226 deadly traffic accidents on the tax days. The average number of traffic deaths on the 60 control days was 213. That is a statistically significant increase.
Passengers and pedestrians at greatest risk
Tax stress is slightly more dangerous for those around the stressed driver, who statistically has a marginally better chance of surviving the day than passengers and pedestrians.
Data from IRS and NHTSA
Redelmeier compiled his research using Internal Revenue Service data for the last 30 years, as well as traffic fatality statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
More drivers on the road?
Russ Rader, of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, suggested that the spike may be a result of more drivers heading to the post office, which is not part of their normal driving routine. Rader said that research shows drivers are more safe on routes where they drive habitually, such as on daily commutes to work.
Electronic filing doesn’t affect spike
However, most of us file our taxes electronically now, and that has not decreased the spike in traffic fatalities. Researcher Donald Redelmeier speculates that the increase in deaths has more to do with stress, which is expressed by greater alcohol consumption, lack of sleep and irritability.
“An increase of risk in this magnitude is about the same as what we observe on Super Bowl Sunday, a time notorious in the U.S. for drinking and driving.”
A day of stress
The bottom line, says Redelmeier, is stress:
“Our research suggests that stressful deadlines can contribute to driver error that can contribute to fatal crashes. People have, for a long time, speculated that psychological stress may contribute to real world crashes, but this is the first study to pin that down.”
Slow down, start early
The upshot? Tax day is stressful for us all. But like all stress, the toll it takes depends on how much a person lets it affect him or her. Take your time. Drive safely. Buckle up. Avoid alcohol or other intoxicants. And, perhaps the best lesson to take away from this study, is to not wait til the last minute. Getting your taxes done in March or February makes tax filing day stress-free.