The Problem: Alcohol consumption is a risk factor for many public health harms. Impaired driving is one of the largest contributors to motor vehicle crashes. Each year in the United States roughly 13,400 people die and an additional 255,500 are injured in motor vehicle crashes involving an alcohol-impaired driver. In 2006, these crashes accounted for almost a third of all U.S. traffic-related deaths. CDC: Impaired Driving Factsheet. Alcohol consumption is also a risk factor for cancer and other chronic conditions such as cirrhosis. One established risk factor for excessive alcohol consumption is availability of alcohol at retail.
The Law: Sale of alcohol is regulated by states and localities. States have the authority to prohibit or curtail the sale of alcohol consumed off-premises (i.e., excluding bars and restaurants) on Sundays. In 2010, fourteen states banned all such sales of alcohol; twenty-two restricted the hours of operation of alcohol outlets on Sundays; and fourteen placed no limitations on sale of alcohol with respect to Sunday. For an example of a state law that prohibits sale on Sunday, seeIC 7.1-3-1-14 (Indiana); for an example of a state law that limits hours of sale on Sunday see M.G.L 38-33(a)(Massachusetts).
The Evidence: An expert panel at the Community Guide systematically reviewed studies assessing the effect of laws banning or limiting the sale of off-premises alcohol on Sundays. Middleton et al, Effectiveness of Policies Maintaining or Restricting Days of Alcohol Sales on Excessive Alcohol Consumption and Related Harms, Am J Prev Med 2010;39(6):575-589. The reviewers identified 14 studies that fit their criteria. Some of the studies evaluated the effect of adoption of laws banning Sunday sales; other evaluated the rescission of such bans. Across the studies, the findings suggested that sale of alcohol on Sunday was associated with increases in one or more alcohol-related harms. The reviewers concluded that there is sufficient evidence to support the conclusion that allowing alcohol sales on Sunday increases consumption of alcohol and motor vehicle crashes. There is also some more limited evidence that increased retail sale on Sunday results in increased rates of assault and domestic disturbance.
The Bottom Line: According to the authors of a Community Guide systematic review, there is sufficient evidence to support the effectiveness of laws banning off-premise alcohol sale on Sundays as a means of decreasing alcohol-related injuries.