David Brown of The Washington Post has published a piece on a little-known risk to returning veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars: motor vehicle crashes. According to the report, which sources both professional research and observations of service members, vets and their counselors, 75 percent of returning vets have a higher rate of fatal car crashes than the civilian population. Likewise, active duty troops are involved in more accidents after their deployments than before, and the likelihood of an accident goes up with each successive tour of duty. In fact, motor vehicle fatalities will soon rank right up there with suicide and interpersonal violence as a leading cause of non-combat deaths.
The reasons why our nation's service members are at such high risk for motor vehicle crashes include, of course, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a contributing factor, as well as drunken driving and seeking out thrills to replace the rush of actual combat in civilian life. The latter is likely why fatal motorcycle crashes in particular spike during wartime.
The final reason mentioned by Brown in his piece, however, is one we hadn't considered, which is that returning service members haven't unlearned the aggressive driving behaviors that kept them alive in a war zone. Racing through intersections, straddling lanes, swerving on bridges and even not wearing seat belts because they hinder a quick escape are all cited in the report as behavior learned in combat that becomes very dangerous when it happens on the home front.
According to Brown, this problem is only beginning to get attention from the military, and research is still hard to come by as recruiting willing test subjects is not easy. The data, however, that points to motor vehicle crashes as a rapidly growing risk for our active and retired service members is conclusive. Click here to read Brown's full report.