Alcohol taxes may decrease soon, if Massachusetts voters decide to exempt alcohol from the state's sales tax. Last year, taxes on alcohol went up when sales tax began being applied along with the excise tax. While package store owners say the higher taxes have decreased their sales, public health researchers say the higher taxes reduce drunk driving and other social problems. As a Massachusetts drunk driving defense attorney, I agree with the public health researchers that our society should prevent drunk driving. In addition to stopping OUI-related injuries and deaths, this could reduce police overreaching intended to stop drunk drivers. Police are sometimes so vigilant for drunk drivers that they violate drivers' rights when they stop them on suspicion of drunk driving. The more we prevent drunk driving, the less of an issue this could be.
Prevention of drunk driving is not the only benefit that would come with keeping the tax on alcohol high, according to University of Florida public health researcher Alexander Wagenaar and his colleagues. The team conducted its own research and also examined that of 50 other papers in scientific journals. They found that when alcohol taxes double, deaths from traffic accidents drop by 11 percent, sexually transmitted infections go down by 6 percent, violence decreases by 2 percent and crime decreases by 1.4 percent. As alcohol taxes increase, rates of death, injury, drunk driving, car accidents, drug use, risky sexual behavior, crime and violence decrease. These changes happen because when alcohol prices go up, alcohol use goes down. The only social ill that was not alleviated by higher alcohol taxes was suicide.
Read article: Higher alcohol taxes linked to fewer deaths.
Though higher alcohol taxes do reportedly drive down alcohol sales, it would be wise for package store owners to consider Massachusetts dram shop laws. In some cases, package stores can be held responsible for a customer's drunk driving if they sell alcohol to a customer who has clearly already been drinking. Losing a few sales because of higher taxes may be worth preventing drunk driving accidents, which could cost them huge sums in lawsuits from victims of drunk drivers.
As a Massachusetts intoxicated driving defense attorney, I'm interested in reducing drunk driving as a social problem too. I know that police are dedicated to getting drunk drivers off the road, as they should be. But sometimes, they can be so focused on that goal that they see guilt when it's not really there. Once a police officer has pulled a driver over on suspicion of drunk driving, that officer has probably made up his or her mind, and is just looking for evidence to confirm that suspicion. The tools that police have to confirm their suspicions -- breathalyzers and field sobriety tests, most frequently -- are scientifically dubious at best. A driver's presumed innocence is out the window as soon as the police pull the driver over, and the punishments for drunk driving are wildly disproportionate to the punishments for equally or even more dangerous behaviors like texting while driving.