Study Suggests Raising Alcohol Tax Reduces DUI Deaths
A new study investigated the effects of Illinois’s higher alcohol tax, implemented in 2009, and found that the tax was linked to fewer DUI deaths.
Researchers from the University of Florida in Gainesville published their findings in the American Journal of Public Health.
“Similar alcohol tax increases implemented across the country could prevent thousands of deaths from car crashes each year,” Alexander Wagenaar, a professor in the department of health outcomes and policy at the university, said regarding the study. “If policymakers are looking to address dangerous drivers on our roads and reduce the number of fatalities, they should reverse the trend of allowing inflation to erode alcohol taxes.”
Illinois increased its excise tax on beer to 4.6 cents per gallon, on wine by 66 cents per gallon, and distilled spirits by $4.05 per gallon. That was 1 cent more than consumers paid per glass of beer or wine, and nearly 5 cents more per serving of spirits.
Although the alcohol tax increase seems small, researchers found a reduction in DUI and alcohol-related traffic deaths fell 26% overall; among young people, that decreased 37% overall. Fatal crashes caused by DUI drivers fell 22% overall, and 25% among young people.
However, David Ozgo, senior vice president for economic and strategic analysis for the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, said that Illinois’s DUI deaths were decreasing anyway.
“In fact, the largest annual decline over the last eight years occurred in 2008, the year before the tax rate changed,” he said. “Importantly, Illinois alcohol-related traffic fatalities declined faster than the national average before the tax increase and this has not been the case since the tax increase.”
He added that between 1982 and 2013, DUI deaths declined 52% overall – from 21,113 to 10,076.
“Repeated studies, including research by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, have shown that alcohol abusers are not deterred by higher prices,” Ozgo said. “It is the moderate, responsible consumers who are most sensitive to prices and are the ones that cut back the most when prices increase.”
However, researchers noted that in 1950, higher costs of alcohol would have meant that an alcoholic could spend upwards of half their daily income on drinks (10 or more); while in 2011, only 3% of their disposable income per day would have gone to alcohol.
“While our study confirms what dozens of earlier studies have found – that an increase in alcohol taxes reduces drinking and reduces alcohol-related health problems, what is unique is that we identified that alcohol taxes do in fact impact the whole range of drinking drivers, including extremely drunk drivers,” Wagenaar said.
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