Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Is Tax Day Killing us?

A new study in the April 11 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that road fatalities are significantly higher on the tax filing deadline than the same day a week earlier or later.  The study is based on a national database on fatalities spanning three decades, 1980-2009.  Fatalities on tax day are compared with fatalities on the same day in the prior and subsequent weeks.  Overall, fatalities increased by 6 percent on the filing deadline and the difference was statistically significant at the 95 percent confidence level.
The study does not measure what might have caused the increased risk.  One possibility is that stress levels rise as the deadline approaches.  Another is that the stress of filing drives people to drink.  A third is that cheating on tax returns brings on the wrath of the almighty (which, if true, should be publicized by the IRS as this would likely improve compliance).
The authors mention that they expected that the increased use of electronic filing would reduce tax day fatalities, since filers could submit their returns without leaving the house, but there is no apparent trend in recent years (and, indeed, the fatality ratio is higher in the past two decades than in the 1980s).
The usual caution applies: correlation does not necessarily imply causality.  But the sample is very large (19,541 deaths) so the result is unlikely to be a statistical fluke.  Does something else happen around mid-April that would be expected to be correlated with more traffic deaths?  Or is the stress of filing really killing us?
In light of these results, it would be  interesting to compare the tax returns of those involved in traffic fatalities with those who survive tax day.  Are the victims more likely to have filed a tax return at the deadline.  If they filed at the last minute, are the decedents more likely to  have a balance due,  especially complicated returns, or questionable income or deduction items than filers who survive?
In the meantime, if you go out on Monday (Tax Day), be careful.
Source:  Donald A. Redelmeier and Christopher J. Yarnell, 2012, ”Road Crash Fatalities on US Income Tax Days,” Journal of the American Medical Association, 307(14):1486-1488.
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