Returning Veterans are at High Risk for Auto Accidents

Automobile crashes are the leading cause of death for veterans returning from deployment during their first year back home, according to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA). Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan face a 75% greater probability of a fatal car accident than the general population. This continues a historical trend, but at a greater rate than prior to the deployments of the past decade. The VA’s investigation suggests that military training, psychological effects of deployment, and possible injuries all play a role in unsafe driving among veterans.

Studies by the VA and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration have shown that risky behavior accounts for many of the deaths. This includes not using seat belts or helmets, speeding, and driving under the influence of alcohol. Training in “aggressive driving” is one possible cause. People on deployment receive training for driving in combat situations, and must constantly contend with the possibility of ambush or improvised explosive devices. VA officials have described a sense of “invincibility” among many returning veterans, having survived combat, which can unwittingly lead to dangerous driving.

Psychological factors also play a significant role because of the highly stressful situations in deployment, particularly to Iraq and Afghanistan. Post-traumatic stress disorder, an all-too-common condition of returning veterans, can lead to dangerous driving back home. An Army study revealed that 50% of returning soldiers reported feeling anxiety on the road when other vehicles quickly approached them, and 20% reported feeling general anxiety whenever driving. The VA has further noted that auto accidents can lead to further PTSD, particularly in individuals already affected by PTSD or other mental health issues, which can create an ongoing problem for veterans involved in accidents.

Traumatic brain injuries can affect driving, causing a person to think they are driving normally and not noticing mistakes. Such injuries may go undetected in returning veterans, leading to unforeseen driving problems. Individuals suffering from brain injuries may not be able to recognize changes in their driving patterns, making safe driving difficult.

Government agencies, led by the VA, are working together to promote driving safety for veterans. This group includes the Departments of Transportation, Defense, and Health and Human Services. David Kelly, Acting Administrator of the NTHSA, said that “[o]ur 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.” The VA launched the Veterans’ Safe Driving Initiative, which offers educational and clinical resources to veterans, as well as materials to help doctors and mental health providers understand driving issues faced by veterans. The Initiative is also conducting strategic research into driving trends and developing further safety recommendations. Richard Petty, a safe driving advocate best known as a NASCAR driver, chairs the Initiative. Petty appears in communities around the country to promote driving safety and discuss the issues with veterans.

The Washington, DC automobile accident injury lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen helping people injured in car accidents to recover their just compensation. For a free and confidential consultation, contact an attorney today.

Web Resources:

Veterans’ Safe Driving Initiative, U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs
Traumatic Stress and Motor Vehicle Accidents, National Center for PTSD, U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs

More Blog Posts:

Washington Area Car Crashes Kill at Least Eight In Less than 48 Hours, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, August 13, 2011
Washington DC Car Accident in Third Street Tunnel Claims 23-Year-Old’s Life, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, March 6, 2011
Two Dead in Washington DC Car Accident, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, January 18, 2011

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