Did you know that traffic accidents are the leading cause of death for military personnel in their first year home from the war? More and more veterans are dying from car accidents than from suicide, which has caused much governmental concern. The ones that die tend to be young, unmarried males from infantry ranks, gun crews, or in seamanship roles.
Based on the statistics, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are 75% more likely to die in car accidents than the general population. Historically, veterans have had increased fatalities following their service. Vietnam vets were twice more likely to die in crashes than non-veterans, and Gulf War veterans had a 30% to 50% greater risk of dying in crashes.
Why They are Risky Drivers
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs were troubled to discover that a significant amount of deaths were due to risky behavior by the driver such as speeding, not wearing seat belts, or not wearing motorcycle helmets. Government officials believe this is because men and women are taught to drive recklessly while in Iraq because they are so used to avoiding bombs on the side or the road or cars filled with bombs ready to blow up a tank.
A 2009 Army study showed that while deployed, 50% of soldiers said they were anxious when other cars approached quickly, 23% had driven through stop signs, and 20% were anxious during normal driving. A huge factor is because when they come back, driving normal and safely is hard. They think because they’ve gone through combat that they can live through anything, so why should driving be a major concern.
Aggressive driving in young soldiers is just one cause of dangerous driving among veterans. Post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries could also result in erratic driving, as can medication and self-medicating (using alcohol and illegal drugs) to cope with symptoms. And there is no check to see if the vets should be driving their own car when they get back. Their license is, of course, still valid.
The Veterans Administration paired up with the Department of Transportation and the Department of Defense to start the Safe Driving Initiative, to increase awareness of car crashes among veterans and to encourage them to continue wearing seat belts and to slow down. And they have been using simulators to re-train drivers on how to drive when they return home. The simulators are particularly helpful with brain injury patients, to identify where help is needed. The administration is also working to make mental health providers more aware of driving issues with veterans.
It is good to hear that initiatives are being put into place to help our veterans stay safe, mentally and physically. Veterans need to be aware that life back at home is much different and safety tips and precautions need to be revisited upon their return.