Study: Sunday Liquor Sales Mean More Sunday Crashes

October 6, 2006

Alcohol-related crashes increased 29 percent and alcohol-related crash fatalities rose 42 percent on Sundays after New Mexico approved Sunday package liquor sales, a new study found.

The increase translates to an additional 543 crashes and 42 deaths since the ban on the Sunday sales ended five years ago, according to the study released Tuesday by the Behavioral Health Research Center of the Southwest here.

The study, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Substance Abuse Policy Research Program, compared the five years before and after the Sunday ban was repealed. The authors said they took into account historical trends, holidays and seasons of the year to make sure changes were not attributable to other patterns of risk.

“For the first time, we have real data and whether blue laws actually protect public health,” said the center’s Garnett McMillan, a study co-author. “Today’s study finds that the Sunday ban saved lives and prevented hundreds of injuries and fatalities from alcohol-related crashes.”

The study, published in Tuesday’s online version of the American Journal of Public Health, found a “unique rise” in crashes and fatalities on Sundays after the repeal. No other day of the week showed any statistically significant changes.

Linda Atkinson, executive director of the Albuquerque-based DWI Resource Center, which opposed the Sunday sales, said she wasn’t surprised that crashes and deaths went up, but added, “It’s astounding it increased that much.”

Before July 1995, Sunday liquor package sales were banned in New Mexico, although bars and restaurants could sell liquor by the drink. When the law was repealed, supporters argued that allowing Sunday package sales would reduce both bootlegging and the drunken driving that occurs when residents go to bars, drink and then drive home.

The DWI Resource Center asked then-Gov. Gary Johnson to veto the repeal, believing it would increase deaths, Atkinson said. However, Johnson signed the bill.

Now, she said, her group might return to the Legislature to ask whether Sunday sales should be continued.

“The thing we know is accessibility and availability of alcohol increases alcohol incidents, and that includes crashes. … Now the study’s there to prove that,” Atkinson said.

She said her group’s analysis of crashes found that “Sundays are significantly high.” In addition, she said, law enforcement agencies generally don’t patrol on Sundays as heavily as the resource center believes they should.

The study results “may be a heads-up for law enforcement to increase enforcement,” she said.

Atkinson also suggested that if Sunday sales continue, liquor excise taxes should be spent to fund more police officers to work Sundays.

“Use those dollars to address it and save lives,” she said.

The National Highway Traffic Administration ranked New Mexico No. 8 in the nation last year for alcohol-related traffic fatalities per vehicle-mile driven.

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