Raising alcohol taxes probably not the answer to drunk driving

Last week, we discussed the idea that ignition interlock devices could someday be a standard feature in all new automobiles in the United States. Advocates for the change argue that it could all but eliminate drunk driving, but there are still quite a few legal, cultural and ethical hurdles to get over before this proposal could be seriously considered.

Another proposed strategy to reduce drunk driving is to increase the price of alcohol. This also raises serious concerns, which we'll discuss in today's post.

In a recent study, researchers examined DUI car accident data from one state before and after that state raised taxes on alcohol sales. The state being studied was Illinois, but most states including West Virginia have increased alcohol taxes or discussed doing so.

According to the study, taxes on alcohol took effect in 2009, and alcohol-related crash fatalities fell by about 26 percent that year. The study's authors attributed the decline to higher taxes (and therefore lower consumer demand).

But was that really the case? The taxes on distilled spirits were somewhat steep, but wine and beer saw tax increases that could be paid in pocket change. Such increases would be difficult to notice, much less significant enough to change consumer behavior.

Moreover, drunk driving accident rates could have declined for other reasons. As just one example, 2009 was the heart of the Great Recession, which means that more people were probably trying to save money by drinking at home rather than going out to bars. It is also worth mentioning that the state's rate of alcohol-related crash fatalities had been declining even before the tax increases were implemented.

Even if there was a practical argument to be made for reducing drunk driving through increased alcohol taxes (which there does not seem to be), we are still left with ethical issues. Yes, alcohol consumption does increase the likelihood of drunk driving, but not for all drinkers. Should we still raise alcohol taxes for everyone, especially without compelling proof that it would reduce drunk driving?

Drunk driving is a difficult issue, perhaps especially so for those who get charged with DUI. As a difficult and complex issue, it cannot be resolved through one-size-fits-all legal changes.

If you are facing DUI charges, you no doubt have more on your mind than the price of alcohol. Please seek the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Source: U.S. News & World Report, "Study: Taxes on Alcohol Could Reduce Drunk Driving Accidents," Kimberly Leonard, April 6, 2015

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