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Making alcohol less affordable through increased state alcohol taxes could prevent thousands of deaths a year from car crashes, asserts a new study.
Alcohol taxes impact the whole range of drinking drivers, including heavy drinkers, the findings showed.
Published online in the American Journal of Public Health, the study found that alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes decreased by 26 percent after taxes on beer, wine and spirits went up in the US state Illinois in 2009.
"Similar alcohol tax increases implemented across the country could prevent thousands of deaths from car crashes each year," said Alexander Wagenaar, professor at University of Florida College of Medicine.
Alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes account for almost 10,000 deaths and half a million injuries every year in the United States.
The researchers used detailed records of fatal crashes from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from January 2001 to December 2011.
They looked at the 104 months before the tax was enacted and the 28 months after it was enacted to see whether the effects of the tax change differed according to a driver's age, gender, race and blood alcohol concentration at the time of a fatal motor vehicle crash.
"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.
"This goes against the conventional wisdom of many economists, who assert that heavy drinkers are less responsive to tax changes, and has powerful implications for how we can keep our communities safer," Wagenaar pointed out.