Veterans at Highest Risk of Traffic Accidents

Auto accident attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm highlight a recent article in the Washington Post detailing the immense risk our veterans are facing on roadways after returning home. The article cites various studies that found that veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have a 75% higher rate of fatal motor vehicle crashes than do civilians.

The highest risk comes in the months immediately after returning home from deployment, and those who served multiple tours in combat zones are at the pinnacle of risk for fatal accidents. The article affirms that these troubling statistics has been proved by mounting evidence, research and observations of service members and veterans.

Although a causative explanation could not be found, the most common is that veterans bring home certain driving habits that, while life-saving in the Middle East war zones, are dangerous on American roads and highways. Such habits include speeding through intersections, swerving while on bridges, straddling lanes, and not wearing seatbelts.

There are also an array of emotional and mental disorders that veterans have high rates of, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which increase aggressive driving. After coming home, veterans are also more likely to engage in drunken driving and thrill-seeking activities such as racing.

Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan also have high rates of suicide and interpersonal violence – just a few of the indirect and fatal consequences of the war on terrorism. For a long time, motor vehicle crashes were the leading cause of non-battle injuries in veterans. Today, the leading cause is suicide. Between 1999 and 2012, the same number of active-duty military personnel died in noncombat auto crashes, on and off duty, as were killed in the Iraq war (4,423 and 4,409, respectively).

The same phenomenon was observed in veterans of the Persian Gulf War and took five years to dispel. In particular, at least for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, there has been a dramatic increase in fatal motorcycle crashes. These accidents account for nearly 15% of all military traffic fatalities in 2001; in 2008, that number jumped to 38%.

Some opine that veterans come home and, looking for an adrenaline rush, purchase motorcycles. One of the most illuminating pieces of evidence comes out of San Antonio, where the insurance company USAA offers reduced-price insurance rates to veterans if their vehicles are stored securely during deployment. Nearly all of USAA’s active-duty customers sign on for the program, which has resulted in a sort of in-house study of before-and-after records of more than 170,000 deployments.

Results proved that veterans were indeed much more likely to cause accidents in the six months after their return than in the six months before they left for deployment. This increase was highest for Army veterans in the enlisted ranks. Additionally, USAA found that there was a relationship between the amount of times deployed and the percent of accidents: troops with three deployments had 36% more accidents, while those twice-deployed had 27% and those deployed only once has 12% more accidents than civilians.

Of course, the reasons behind this are deep-rooted and not yet fully understood. In a report to NATO on this increased vehicle mortality risk, two military physicians wrote that combat-driving habits cannot be the only explanation for risky driving behavior and excess fatalities. More likely was the after-effects of distress and mental disorders. Several veterans interviewed for the Post article affirmed that it is a problem their peers are suffering from more so than they would like to admit, and that drunken driving plays a major role.

Nearly 50% of veterans interviewed by the University of Minnesota reported having feelings of anxiety when cars approach quickly. One quarter said they drove through stop signs in the past month. The VA hospital in Palo Alto, California is in the midst of a study that will identify their triggers and the best strategies for relieving driving anxiety, although they state that enrollment is lower than they had expected.

Auto accident attorneys encourage veterans to enroll in driver-rehabilitation programs offered at the 40 VA centers across the country. Our attorneys have extensive experience working with victims of roadway crashes, and are available for free legal consultations at any time of day or night.