Photo: Flickr / fd
You know the cliche: The only things certain in life are death and taxes. Turns out, more than 200 years after Benjamin Franklin first said it, that the latter may make the former even more certain.
A new study published Wednesday in The Journal of American Medicine found that automobile accident-related deaths rose on or around April 15 when compared to a random day during the weeks before and after. The study measured the last 30 years and showed that the accident-related deaths jumped 6 per cent on the tax-filing date — from 213 deaths on control days to 226 deaths on tax days.
The overwhelming reason: stress. The late tax filers rushing to get them out in the last few days are stressed and suffering from a lack of sleep and tolerance for other drivers on the road. ‘
“Stress is often speculated as a potential contributing factor, yet the effects are impossible to study in a scientific manner,” Donald Redelmeier, the lead researcher in the study, said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “That’s what makes tax day so special from my perspective. It’s a widespread stress quite onerous throughout a large community that is synchronised and repeated on a yearly basis.”
What is causing all this stress? Redelmeier said it’s mostly the complexity of the tax system rather than the actual amount most people have to fork over to the government.
In other words, the tax code is what’s driving people crazy before sending in their taxes. SmartMoney has an interesting analogy, comparing the U.S. tax code to the length of every work of Shakespeare:
The U.S. tax code is insane and out of control. It’s tripled in a decade. It now runs to 3.8 million words. To put that in context, William Shakespeare only needed 900,000 words to say everything he had to say. Hamlet. Othello. The history plays. The sonnets. The whole shebang. But the IRS needs four times as many words? Really?
When he studied the tax code, it surprised Redelmeier how complicated it has become. He said it’s about twice as complex as that of Canada and a whopping 10 times more complicated than France’s tax code. He said there are about 2.8 billion hours devoted to individual filing each year. The average family of four spends 40 hours per year on tax returns.
“And if people were perfectly rational agents, they might pace themselves to about one hour of accounting work per week and not leave it until the last moment,” Redelmeier said. “But human nature being what it is, a lot of people end up filing at the very last moment. That is collectively the scope of the stress. That’s why we hypothesized that stressful deadlines might contribute to short-term human error.”
Now, there are limitations to this study. For one, the researchers are drawing a broad conclusion. They don’t know the factor that went into each case in the rise in fatal accidents and if it was directly caused by the broader conclusion they draw. There is no at-fault analysis.
Redelmeier also expressed doubt that anything would change no matter who gets elected or re-elected in the fall — Republican Mitt Romney or President Barack Obama.
“The U.S. tax code has grown substantially over the last 30 years, which includes both Democrat and Republican presidents,” he said.
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