Repealing 'Blue Laws' on Sunday alcohol sales increased alcohol-related crashes and crash fatalities

New Mexico study finds 29 percent increase in Sunday crashes; 42 percent increase in deaths

Albuquerque, New Mexico (October 3, 2006)--The first study to look at the public health impact of lifting a statewide ban on Sunday packaged alcohol sales found a substantial increase in alcohol-related traffic crashes and fatalities, according to an article published today in the online version of the American Journal of Public Health.

According to the study, since New Mexico lifted its ban on Sunday sales of packaged alcohol, there has been a 29 percent increase in alcohol-related crashes and a 42 percent increase in alcohol-related crash fatalities on Sundays. This increase has meant an additional 543 alcohol-related crashes and 42 alcohol-related crash deaths during five years after the ban was lifted.

Delaware, Maine, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia have lifted similar bans since 1998, despite the lack of data on the impact of such legislation. And many of the 15 states with current bans on Sunday alcohol sales are considering repeal--in response to both pressures from the alcohol industry and the need to raise state tax revenues, according to the study.

"For the first time, we have real data on whether blue laws actually protect public health" said study co-author Dr. Garnett McMillan of the Behavioral Health Research Center of the Southwest in Albuquerque, New Mexico. "Today's study finds that the Sunday ban saved lives and prevented hundreds of injuries and fatalities from alcohol-related crashes."

The study, "Legalized Sunday packaged alcohol sales and alcohol-related traffic crashes and crash fatalities in New Mexico" was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Substance Abuse Policy Research Program (SAPRP).

According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data, New Mexico ranked 8th in the nation in 2005 for alcohol-related crash fatalities per vehicle-mile driven. Prior to July 1, 1995, alcohol could only be purchased in New Mexico bars and restaurants on Sundays. But on that date the state legislature repealed the Sunday ban on packaged alcohol sales, allowing licensed stores to sell alcohol between noon and midnight on Sundays.

Advocates of the repeal argued that it would reduce alcohol-related crashes and fatalities by diverting alcohol consumption from bars to homes, and thus eliminate the need for people to drive home from drinking establishments while alcohol-impaired.

The study authors reviewed all alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes in New Mexico between July 1, 1990 and June 30, 2000, and compared the five years before and after the repeal. The study data was derived from Uniform Accident Reports filed by police officers, and covered all reported crashes on public roadways that result in death, personal injury, or $500 or more in property damage, with the reporting officer determining whether alcohol was involved.

The study measured and controlled for historical trends, major holidays, and seasons of the year to ensure that changes in alcohol-related crash rates were not simply attributed to background patterns of motor vehicle crash risks. "For example, we controlled for football season and Super Bowl Sunday," said McMillan.

Comparing pre- and post-repeal data, the authors found that between noon-Sunday and noon-Monday there was a unique rise in both alcohol-related crashes and crash fatalities in the post-repeal period. No other day of the week showed any statistically significant changes, the study reports.

The study revealed 492,396 motor vehicle crashes from 1990-2000, with 45,596 involving alcohol and an average of 12.9 alcohol-related crashes per day. There were 4,620 motor vehicle crash fatalities with 2,341 involving alcohol and an average daily fatality rate of .65 deaths per day.

"By increasing the availability of alcohol on Sundays, you open the door to more opportunities for drinking and driving and the negative consequences that result," said McMillan.

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The Substance Abuse Policy Research Program (www.saprp.org) of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is a $66 million program that funds research into policies related to alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful and timely change.

For more than 30 years the Foundation has brought experience, commitment, and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. Helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need--the Foundation expects to make a difference in our lifetime. For more information, visit www.rwjf.org.


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