The military trains service members to drive aggressively while deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, this has led to risky driving behavior and other problems as they return home from overseas. During the first year back from deployment, automobile accidents are the leading cause of death for veterans. A study by the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs has found a 75% greater probability, as compared to the overall U.S. population, that veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan will be involved in a fatal auto crash. The VA identifies injuries sustained during deployment, psychological issues faced by many veterans upon their return, and the driving training veterans receive as factors in the trend of unsafe driving.
The VA is leading a group of government agencies in promoting safe driving and providing support and resources for veterans. The Veterans’ Safe Driving Initiative provides both educational and clinical support to veterans and to the doctors and mental health professionals who help them. “Our returning combat veterans have already put themselves in harm’s way to protect our way of life. Now it’s our turn to take action,” says David Kelly, Acting Administrator of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. The coalition of agencies includes the VA, the NHTSA, and the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, Transportation. The Veterans’ Safe Driving Initiative also boasts Richard Petty, a NASCAR legend and advocate for safe driving, as its chair. Petty tours the country on behalf of the Initiative to meet with veterans and educate them about safety issues.
The Veterans’ Safe Driving Initiative also conducts research into issues affecting veterans on the roads. The VA has also conducted research, in cooperation with the NHTSA, to develop recommendations on how to keep veterans safe while driving. Their research identifies risky behavior, which can include everything from not wearing a seat belt or helmet to driving under the influence, as a major cause of accidents. VA officials describe the feeling of “invincibility” many veterans have after returning home from combat conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the mere act of driving is risky and aggressive driving behavior is often necessary.
Actual injuries sustained on deployment can play a role in driving, particularly traumatic brain injuries. Injuries affecting the brain may cause someone to believe their driving is not impaired when it is. Veterans with such injuries may not notice how their driving habits have changed.
The stressful conditions service members face on deployment can lead to psychological issues like post-traumatic stress disorder, which may also be a factor in driving safety. Significant numbers of soldiers returning from abroad have reported feeling anxiety while driving. PTSD affects thousands of veterans and can have powerful symptoms, including flashbacks to a traumatic event and highly emotional responses. Traumatic memories associated with driving while deployed can lead to driving problems back home.
Kansas City auto accident attorney Doug Horn represents people who have suffered injury in auto accidents, and he is an advocate of safe driving. For a free and confidential consultation, contact the firm today.
Veterans’ Safe Driving Initiative, U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: An Overview, National Center for PTSD, U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs