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Has Maryland's alcohol tax increase made our roads safer?

Does increasing the cost of alcohol reduce the instances of drunk driving? That's what a team of researchers at the University of Maryland (UMD) set out to determine.

In 2011, Maryland increased sales taxes on alcohol in an effort to generate more revenue for public schools and other state programs. The UMD study, published in this month's American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found a "significant decline in the rate of alcohol-positive drivers…involved in injury-related motor vehicle crashes" after the increased alcohol sales tax took effect.

Specifically, researchers saw a drop from a monthly average of 228 injury crashes that involved a driver who had been drinking to about 179 - - more than a 20 percent decrease after the 2011 tax hike.

The decline was not seen in all age groups, however. In fact, the number of alcohol-related crashes rose slightly among drivers 55 and over. The greatest drop was seen among drivers in the 15-to-20 age range.

A possible explanation is that a tax increase would be less likely to dissuade older people with more money to spend from purchasing alcohol than young people. They likely also have a longer history of drinking and therefore are not as apt to change their behavior.

Some public health experts have advocated raising taxes on liquor as a means to decrease drunk driving and other alcohol-related dangers. Overall, however, lower state and federal alcohol taxes have helped make it more affordable than it was in the mid-20th century. When states have considered increasing the taxes, it's usually been to raise revenue, as was the case in Maryland, rather than to increase public safety.

Alcohol is easy to get and affordable for just about anyone who wants it. Unfortunately, too many people still get behind the wheel believing that they are able to drive safely when they aren't. Even if you aren't involved in a crash, a DUI charge can impact your life significantly. That's why it's important if you or a loved one is facing such a charge to determine what your legal options are to help mitigate those consequences.

Source: Journalist's Resource, "Higher alcohol sales tax helps reduce drunk driving crashes," Denise-Marie Ordway, June 29, 2017

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