Veterans more likely to be involved in car accidents

November 15, 2013

Over the past decade, the experiences of those who fought in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have helped experts develop a better understanding of the long term effects of combat injuries, particularly post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries. Interestingly, researchers have noticed a trend that may be connected to combat stress: veterans who recently returned home are far more likely to die in a motor vehicle accident than members of the general public.

The Washington Post recently published an overview of several studies outlining the risks that recent veterans face when they return home. According to multiple sources - including reports from the Department of Veterans Affairs - the rate of fatal motor vehicle accidents among veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is 75 percent higher than that among civilians. Those who have served multiple tours in combat zones are at the highest risk for being in fatal car accident.

Motor vehicle accidents have long been an issue among military personnel. Indeed, from 1999 through 2012, approximately the same number of active duty military personnel died in car accidents as the number of those killed in the Iraq war. Experts also noticed that the number of fatal motorcycle accidents among service members increased during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: in 2001, motorcycle accidents accounted for approximately 14 percent of all military traffic deaths. That number rose to 38 percent in 2008.

The exact cause of the increase in fatal motor vehicle accidents among veterans is unclear. Some suggest that troops develop driving habits while deployed that may help them survive in combat conditions, but increase their chances of being in an accident when they return home. Among other behaviors, this may include speeding through intersections or even not wearing a seatbelt because it may hinder a quick escape. Others argue that a failure to adjust driving habits is only part of the story and may be a symptom of a larger problem related, perhaps, to post traumatic stress. For example, approximately 25 percent of veterans enrolled in a PTSD treatment center in California reported that they had gotten behind the wheel of a car after drinking. A slightly smaller number reported that they rarely used their seatbelts.

No matter the exact cause, recognizing that there is a problem is the first step in developing an effective strategy to stopping it. Further research could be key to helping veterans - and everyone else on the road - stay safe.