States with Stronger Alcohol Controls Have Fewer Alcohol-Related Traffic Deaths

Date of Press Release: 
May 15, 2012

The Road Less Traveled: States That More Tightly Control the Sale and Distribution of Alcohol Have Lower Alcohol-Related FatalitiesDownload a PDF Version of the Press Release

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HARRISBURG, PA  (May 15, 2012) — States that more heavily control the sale and distribution of alcohol have lower alcohol-related traffic deaths than states that take a more hands off approach, according to a Keystone Research Center policy brief.

These findings differ from those of economists John Pulito and Antony Davies, PhD, whose research was published by two “free market think tanks”—Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Foundation and George Mason University’s Mercatus Center.

The reason that KRC’s brief reaches different conclusions is simple: The Pulito-Davies research omitted two variables that are critical to explaining differences in alcohol-related traffic fatality rates among the states — average vehicle miles traveled and average per capita income. When you include those factors, Pennsylvania has an estimated 58 fewer alcohol-related traffic deaths among adults each year than it would have if the state had no controls over the distribution of alcohol.

In The Road Less Traveled: States That More Tightly Control the Sale and Distribution of Alcohol Have Lower Alcohol-Related Fatalities, Keystone aims to set the record straight for policymakers and others who have cited the Pulito-Davies research.

“What impact will privatization have on the safety of our roads and highways? This is a critical question for policymakers to answer, and they should have the facts,” said Mark Price, PhD, Keystone labor economist and co-author of the policy brief.

The Keystone policy brief also reinforces the findings of a task force of public health experts appointed by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In April, the Task Force on Community Preventive Services published a piece in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Preventive Medicine finding that alcohol privatization contributes to increases in alcohol consumption, creating a greater risk of alcohol abuse and its associated social costs.

“It is not surprising that the Keystone Research Center found that state control of alcohol distribution is associated with fewer alcohol-related fatalities,” said Task Force member Karen Glanz, PhD, MPH, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “This is in line with the Task Force's conclusion that retail alcohol privatization increases the risk of excess consumption of alcohol and associated risks. It is also in keeping with a larger body of research that has found negative social impacts from privatization of alcohol distribution.”

Dr. Glanz is the George A. Weiss University Professor, Professor of Epidemiology and Nursing, and Director of the Center for Health Behavior Research at Penn.

In the policy brief, Keystone researchers provide an overview of the Task Force’s findings, then reproduce the analysis done by Pulito and Davies except for adding in two omitted variables — vehicle miles traveled and per capita income. KRC found:

  • Among adults (age 20 and older): Heavy control states (those that maintain control over the sale of at least two types of alcohol at the retail level and at least one type at the wholesale level — a group that includes Pennsylvania) have lower alcohol-related traffic fatality rates among adults each year than states that have no such controls. Pennsylvania has an estimated 58 fewer alcohol-related traffic deaths among adults each year than it would have if the state had no controls over the distribution of alcohol.
  • Among youth (ages 15-19): There was no difference found in fatality rates for alcohol-related car accidents for youth ages 15 to 19 based on the degree of state control over the distribution and sale of alcohol.
  • Among children (under age 15): There are lower fatality rates for alcohol-related car accidents for children under the age of 15 in states with heavy control over alcohol sales and distribution. (Pulito and Davies did not examine this group.)

Including vehicle miles traveled and per capita income is important, since control states tend to be ones in which people drive further and have lower incomes. Driving more increases the likelihood of fatal traffic accidents, while lower incomes mean people are less likely to be driving in newer cars with strong safety features.

“The Pulito-Davies research has been used repeatedly to muddy the waters regarding the negative social impacts of alcohol privatization,” said Stephen Herzenberg, PhD, economist and executive director of the Keystone Research Center. “It’s important that policymakers have accurate data on the significant impact of alcohol privatization.”

Read the Policy Brief.