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March 31, 2015

Can we save thousands of innocent lives from serious crime through . . . a tax increase?

Those who vigorously oppose various modern sentencing reform proposals are often quick to suggest that any efforts to save taxpayer monies by reducing excessive prison terms could with the potential costs of increased crime and increased victimization.  I tend to resist (as does most sophisticated research) the assertion that there is a zero-sum reality to incarceration rates and crime rates, but I do share a concern that any budget-driven criminal justice reforms need to keep a close watch on what evidence and research suggests is the public safety impact of reform.

With those thoughts always in mind, I am especially encouraged by this report about new research suggestion we might be able to successfully reduce serious crimes and innocent victimization through a tax increase that could be good for state budgets.  The report is titled "Researchers see significant reduction in fatal car crashes after an increase in alcohol taxes," and here are the highlights: 

Increasing state alcohol taxes could prevent thousands of deaths a year from car crashes, say University of Florida Health researchers, who found alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes decreased after taxes on beer, wine and spirits went up in Illinois.

A team of UF Health researchers discovered that fatal alcohol-related car crashes in Illinois declined 26 percent after a 2009 increase in alcohol tax. The decrease was even more marked for young people, at 37 percent. The reduction was similar for crashes involving alcohol-impaired drivers and extremely drunken drivers, at 22 and 25 percent, respectively. The study was released online in the American Journal of Public Health in March and will be published in a forthcoming issue.

“Similar alcohol tax increases implemented across the country could prevent thousands of deaths from car crashes each year,” said Alexander C. Wagenaar, a professor in the department of health outcomes and policy at the UF College of Medicine. “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.”

Alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes account for almost 10,000 deaths and half a million injuries every year in the United States. Alcohol is more affordable than ever, a factor researchers say has contributed to Americans’ widespread drinking and driving. Drinking more than 10 drinks per day would have cost the average person about half of his or her disposable income in 1950 compared with only 3 percent in 2011. Alcoholic beverages have become so inexpensive because alcohol tax rates have declined substantially, after taking inflation into account....

The research team defined an impaired driver as having a blood alcohol level of less than .15 percent and an extremely drunken driver as having a blood alcohol level of more than .15 percent, which translates to roughly six drinks within an hour for an average adult. To control for multiple other factors that can affect motor vehicle crash rates, such as traffic safety programs, weather and economic conditions, the researchers compared the number of alcohol-related fatal crashes in Illinois with those unrelated to alcohol during the same time period as well as alcohol-related fatal crashes in Wisconsin, which did not change its alcohol taxes. Results confirmed that the decrease in crashes was due to the tax change, not other factors.

The larger-than-expected size of the effects of this modest tax increase may be because the tax change occurred at the same time as the Great Recession -- a time when unemployment was high and personal incomes lower, according to the study. “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.”

March 31, 2015 at 02:51 PM | Permalink


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The problem I have is the legal 4 greenheads for owi keeps getting lower. It was in excess of 1.0, then 1.0, now .08.

Where are we going with this. Right now if you have a drink and drive you are at risk if in an accident. Wont blow zeros and that is frowned upon. Just depends on what happens.

It varied in state to state, especially bordering states. The rich mad mothers controlled the legislaters, which is a shame.

Your guilty if the key is in the ignition and you blow .08 or higher. Really. Does this count for everyone? Judge Jack Camp included. Our high level govt buddy.

Enough said.

Posted by: MidWestGuy | Mar 31, 2015 7:16:34 PM

What a surprise, Bill Otis is upset about this over at his blog. He is so embittered nowadays that his posts drip with sarcasm references to completely unrelated issues -- health care, military deserters?Mark?? He used to be an extreme voice, but at least able to make an argument. He has now completely lost it. Georgetown Law Center -- a respected Jesuit institution -- has him on its faculty? A very sad, pathetic man. He has lost even most conservatives. Time has passed him by.

Posted by: Mark | Apr 1, 2015 7:05:51 PM

Mark. Bill Otis was the sole licensed lawyer here advocating for crime victims.

Bill and I disagreed over the legalization of marijuana, and I was concerned about his logical consistency. We either legalize marijuana or truly prohibit tobacco and alcohol, with Draconian, absolute measures. I can support the mandatory death penalty for any producers or importers, no exceptions, and 20 lashes for any consumer. Since there is zero chance of any public support for real prohibition, I support the legalization of marijuana.

Yet, I respect Bill Otis. You need to learn basic manners. You sound frustrated and stupid.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 3, 2015 1:11:38 AM

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