OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEvery year, alcohol related car crashes claim the lives of thousands of Americans, making the problem a national priority. While increased police patrols and greater education about the dangers of drunk driving are somewhat effective, new research indicates that raising alcohol taxes may have the greatest impact in making our streets safer.

In 2009, Illinois increased taxes on beer, wine and spirits, which, researchers at the University of Florida (UF) found, resulted in a 26 percent decrease in car crashes linked to alcohol, Medical News Today reports. The taxes appeared to have the largest affect on young drivers, in that age group, alcohol related car fatalities dropped by 37 percent.

Illinois increased taxes by:

  • 4.6 cents a gallon of beer
  • 66 cents a gallon of wine
  • $4.05 a gallon of distilled spirits

The slight increase in taxes had a dramatic effect and not only reduced drinking, but also saved lives. If other states were to adopt this practice, thousands of lives could be saved, says first author Alexander C. Wagenaar, a professor in the department of health outcomes and policy at the UF College of Medicine.

The authors point out that one of the problems is that inflation affects alcohol taxes, which has had a hand in America’s drinking and driving problem, according to the article. Alcohol is markedly more affordable than it was a half century ago; in the 1950s in order to afford more than ten drinks a day it would eat up half of the average person’s disposable income. Whereas in 2011, about 3% of the average person’s disposable income would cover the cost of ten drinks a day.

“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,” said Prof. Wagenaar.

The findings were published in the American Journal of Public Health.