U of Wisconsin study: Smoking ban = More DUI Deaths


A report on a connection between smoking bans and an increase in DUI deaths should give pause to Minnesotans.

The paper, "Drunk driving after the passage of smoking bans in bars," was written by Scott Adams and Chad Cotti of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and published in the Journal of Public Economics. The authors estimate that smoking bands increase the number of DUI deaths by about 13 percent. Summary (emphasis added):

Using geographic variation in local and state smoke-free bar laws in the US, we observe an increase in fatal accidents involving alcohol following bans on smoking in bars that is not observed in places without bans. Although an increased accident risk might seem surprising at first, two strands of literature on consumer behavior suggest potential explanations — smokers driving longer distances to a bordering jurisdiction that allows smoking in bars and smokers driving longer distances within their jurisdiction to bars that still allow smoking, perhaps through non-compliance or outdoor seating. We find evidence consistent with both explanations. The increased miles driven by drivers wishing to smoke and drink offsets any reduction in driving from smokers choosing to stay home following a ban, resulting in increased alcohol-related accidents. This result proves durable, as we subject it to an extensive battery of robustness checks.

Deaths from DUI in Minnesota reached their lowest level in 2006, with 175 people dying at the hands of of drunk drivers (see a chart of alcohol-related traffic fatalities going back to 1982 here). So if the research holds true, we could expect an additional 22 or 23 people to die as an unintended consequence of the smoking ban that went into effect October 1. Then again, some lives will undoubtedly be saved that would otherwise have been lost to diseases caused by secondhand smoke.

UPDATE: This is particularly troubling considering this report released today that found that the North has the worst rates of DUI already. Wisconsin has the highest incidence, and Minnesota checks in at No. 3.