As this year’s tax day approaches, I’m reminded of one of Benjamin Franklin’s widely quoted statements:
Everything appears to promise that it will last; but in this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.
A new study suggests that death and taxes are more than just unrelated “certainties,” and that one (paying taxes) could lead to the other.
Canadian researchers tallied up the number of people who died in car crashes or other motor vehicle accidents in the United States on the day income taxes were due (usually April 15th) from 1980 to 2009. They did the same thing for the day that was a week earlier and a week later. Of more than 19,000 deaths analyzed, an average of 226 people died as a result of motor vehicle accidents on tax days, compared to 213 on other days. The study appeared as a Research Letter in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
This study couldn’t answer why there might be more motor vehicle accidents on tax days. But the authors offered a few possible explanations:
- The stress of the tax deadline distracted drivers.
- People might drink more alcohol on tax day.
- People might get less sleep around tax day.
I can think of other possible reasons. People may drive more recklessly on tax day while rushing to post offices to mail their returns. There could simply be more people on the road on tax day due to tax preparation and mailing. Or maybe the findings are due to chance.
Although the study is an interesting one, I think the results are less impressive than they seem. And because it couldn’t identify reasons for the small increased risk of death, the real importance of this study isn’t clear.
Findings should take a back seat
Motor vehicle accidents are responsible for a large number of preventable deaths in this country. The numbers are staggering: nearly 33,000 Americans die each year in motor vehicle accidents. Major contributors include:
- drunk driving
- distracted driving
- falling asleep at the wheel
- speeding and other reckless driving
If the JAMA findings are real, staying off the road on tax day could ever so slightly reduce your chances of getting into an accident on the road. But there are other, better ways to keep yourself and others safe while driving every day of the year.
Don’t use your phone while driving. Although texting while driving has been banned in many places, dialing a number, reading or responding to email, or scrolling through text messages can be just as distracting.
Limit your use of the climate control, navigation and entertainment systems while driving. If you have a passenger, let him or her handle these tasks. If you’re driving alone, pull over and stop before programming your GPS rather than trying to do it while driving.
Avoid the temptation to multitask while driving. Eating, shaving, or putting on makeup could be even more distracting than using a phone
Don’t drink and drive.
Follow recommended speed limits and drive defensively.
Don’t drive if you’re sleepy or sleep-deprived.
If you find yourself rushing around on tax day to get your taxes filed on time, plan ahead for next year. Getting your taxes done early (and filed electronically so you don’t have to be driving) could reduce your stress level. And it could get you your refund that much earlier!