Traffic Fatalities Increase on Tax Day, Study Says

Most people would likely agree that Tax Day, which falls on April 17 this year, is not a popular day.  After all, who enjoys filing and paying their taxes?  But most people likely do not realize just how bad of a day it can be for some.

Two authors, Donald A. Redelmeier and Christopher J. Yarnell, published a study in the Wednesday edition of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) on fatalities from traffic accidents in the United States on Tax Day.  They found that traffic-related fatalities are 6% higher on Tax Day than the average number of traffic-related fatalities for any other day in the month of April.

On average, Tax Day had 226 fatalities related to traffic accidents, whereas the other days in April had 213 fatalities related to traffic accidents.  While this difference may seem relatively small, when you consider the financial impact related to the additional loss of life, injuries, and property damage, the Tax Day fatalities cost society about $40 million.

Experts on traffic fatalities are unsure of the specific cause of the increased number of traffic deaths on Tax Day.  Some have speculated that the cause of this increase in traffic fatalities may be related to higher stress.  Tax Day is one of the most stressful days of the year, and an increase in stress can lead a driver to be more easily distracted and therefore more prone to make driving errors than can lead to a crash.

Others believe drivers using roads they do not take normally may be part of the reason for the increase in accidents.  When drivers take unfamiliar routes to their tax preparer’s office, the post office, or even the bar (yes, there is an increased consumption of alcohol around Tax Day as well), drivers are more prone to making errors than when they drive on familiar routes.

The increased number of traffic deaths on Tax Day aligns with an increase in traffic fatalities on other days with special events, such as Super Bowl Sunday, Election Day, and July 4.

The study also indicated that those in the western part of the United States are more likely to be involved in a crash than those in other parts of the country.  In addition, the safest group of drivers on Tax Day are those over the age of 65, as they actually had a decreased rate of traffic-related fatalities on Tax Day as compared to other days in the study.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) started accepting electronic filing of tax returns in 1986, with electronic filing accounting for about three-fourths of tax return filings in recent years.  You might expect that the introduction of and increased use of electronic filing would reduce the number of drivers on the road on Tax Day who are rushing to get their taxes sent off on time.  But the data did not correlate to a decrease in traffic fatalities.  In fact, the number of traffic-related deaths on Tax Day generally increased over the time range of the study.

The data used in the study was from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  The study results were based on data taken from a 30-year period from 1980 to 2009.

by Mark Johnston

Mark has been a contributor to legal web sites related to bankruptcy, tax, and criminal law since 2011. He has an Accounting degree from Texas A&M University.