WEDNESDAY, Oct. 4, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- After New Mexico lifted a Sunday ban on alcohol sales in 1995, there was a 29 percent increase in traffic crashes on Sundays and a 42 percent increase in crash fatalities.
Those increases translated into an additional 543 alcohol-related crashes and 42 alcohol-related deaths in the five years after the ban was lifted, according to a study published online Monday by the American Journal of Public Health. This is the first study to examine the public health impact of repealing "blue laws" that ban Sunday sales of packaged alcohol, the researchers said.
Many of the 15 states that still have such bans are considering repealing them to increase state tax revenues and due to pressure from the alcohol industry.
"For the first time, we have real data on whether blue laws actually protect public health. Today's study finds that the Sunday ban saved lives and prevented hundreds of injuries and fatalities from alcohol-related crashes," study co-author Garnett McMillan, of the Behavioral Health Research Center of the Southwest in Albuquerque, said in a prepared statement.
The study was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Alcohol Substance Abuse Policy Research Program.
In New Mexico, advocates of repealing the Sunday ban on packaged alcohol sales argued that the move would reduce the incidence of alcohol-related crashes and fatalities on Sundays. They reasoned that lifting the ban would divert alcohol consumption from bars to homes on Sundays and therefore reduce the number of impaired people driving home from bars.
This study refutes that contention, McMillan said.
"By increasing the availability of alcohol on Sundays, you open the door to more opportunities for drinking and driving and the negative consequences that result," he said.
The U.S. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control has more about impaired driving.