Tax day is even deadlier than you think

at 02:18 PM ET, 04/12/2012

Is tax day literally killing us? A new paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds that traffic fatalities rise an average of 6 percent on tax day, compared to similar days. That makes it about as deadly as Super Bowl Sunday, another day of abnormal road carnage.

A drive-by tax return drop-off on April 15, 2010, in Pasadena, Calif. (Damian Dovarganes - Associated Press)
The paper sifts through a few hypotheses: Stress is the leading suspect, as polls have found that tax day is the most stressful day of the year. Increased alcohol consumption, a major factor in Super Bowl accidents, seems like an unlikely culprit here, since nighttime road fatalities don’t go up on tax day. “Additional reasons,” the researchers write, “might include sleep deprivation, inadvertent inattention, and less tolerance of hassles.” Surprisingly, the advent of electronic filing doesn’t seem to have improved matters — the surge of tax day fatalities is even higher in recent years than it was in the 1980s.

It’s unlikely that this is all just a statistical fluke: The researchers pored through a large database of fatalities from 1980-2009, looking at 19,541 cases all told, and compared road fatalities on tax day with those on the same day in the week before and after.

Alternatively, perhaps the spike in stress and road fatalities have something to do with the increasing complexity of the tax code? Len Burman, a tax expert at Syracuse University who flagged the study, has the appropriate wonky follow-up questions: “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?”

Tax day this year falls on Tuesday, April 17, for those keeping track.

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