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More people die in fatal car crashes on Tax Day, study finds

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(CBS News) With "Tax Day" looming on April 17, many Americans are adding stress to their lives by trying to file their returns in time. But can that stress kill you?

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New research published in the April 10 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association finds Americans are more likely to die in a car crash on Tax Day.

For the research, Dr. Donald A. Redelmeier, a professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, and colleagues retrieved IRS data on every Tax Day from 1980 through 2009, and compared those dates with fatal road crash data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. For comparison, the researchers also identified "control" subjects who were involved in fatal car crashes one week before and one week after each year's Tax Day.

What did they find?

During the past 30 Tax Days, more than 19,500 people died in a fatal car crash, which amounts to 226 people each day, compared with nearly 13,000 people who died on control days. The researchers say that means on every Tax Day, an additional 13 people will die in a car accident. The researchers write that this risk increase is "similar in magnitude to the increase in crashes on Super Bowl Sunday."

The study authors suggest that the stressful deadline may distract drivers and contribute to human error. They also speculate that drivers may have consumed alcohol, changed their driving pattern, or had less sleep on Tax Day to contribute to the crash, but say more research needs to be done to confirm these risks.

In the meantime, the researchers wrote, "Public health campaigns should reinforce the importance of road safety on tax day, including emphasizing the need to wear seatbelts, avoid alcohol, reduce excessive speed, and minimize distractions."

Dr. Stewart Lipner, director of psychological services at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y. who was not involved with the study, tells HealthPop, "I wouldn't consider myself an expert on Tax Day or transportation patterns," but he doesn't think the study predicts that filing taxes will lead to more accidents. "Also Super Bowl Sunday isn't necessarily a stressful day."

That's not to say tax time isn't stressful. Lipner has heard many patients who are heads of households describe stress around this time, which causes them to become distracted or lose sleep.

Diane Ackroyd, a nurse practitioner and associate director of psychiatric emergency services at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, tells HealthPop that when people are under acute stress, they're less aware of their surroundings and might "blank out" or become tense and restless. She says stress conceivably could cause the human error seen in many car crashes.

However she thinks other factors may contribute. She said in the psychiatry field, spring is a traditionally tough season for people, and may lead to exacerbation of mental illnesses such as depression or bipolar disease because there's more social pressure to come out of "isolation" with the longer lighter days.

"I do think there's a good start to this study in looking at the kinds of issues that stress people out," she said.

How can Americans reduce their stress during Tax Day?

Ackroyd suggests people try simple relaxation techniques, such as counting back from 100, taking deep breaths or going for a walk. If people still feel extreme stress while managing money, they should seek professional help.

Lipner says people should start gathering their tax materials early and put them in one place to reduce stress down the line. Starting early also gives people plenty of time to talk through any potential issues that arise. He touts the importance of talking things through with others.

"I think the best method is not to keep it inside and not to avoid," he said. "Air it with someone who can give you practical advice. Even if they can't solve the problem, they feel better once they air it out."

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