Smiling man looking away while driving in car.

Keep Yourself Safe on the Roads

Among Veterans, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death in the early years after returning home from deployment.

In the United States, motor vehicle crashes kill more than 100 people every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Among Veterans, vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death in the early years after returning home from deployment, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

However, motor vehicle crashes and deaths are often preventable. There are several steps you can take to ensure your safety on the road as well as the safety of your passengers and those around you.

Learn more about the most common reasons for car crashes, why Veterans may be more at risk and what you can do to stay safe.

What Are the Most Common Reasons for Car Crashes?

  • Impaired driving – Driving while impaired by any substance, including alcohol, drugs or even some prescription and over-the-counter medications, can cause slow coordination, bad judgment and poor reaction times. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 13,384 people died in alcohol-impaired driving traffic deaths in 2021, and 56% of drivers involved in serious injury or fatal crashes tested positive for at least one drug.
  • Distracted driving – Distracted driving killed more than 3,522 people in 2021. Distracted driving includes anything that takes your attention away from safe driving, including texting. At 55 miles an hour, sending or reading a text is like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.
  • Speeding – When speeding, you have greater potential to lose control of your vehicle and may have a harder time stopping quickly. Speeding increases the severity of crashes, leading to more harmful injuries. In 2021, speeding killed 12,330 people.Tired truck driver.
  • Drowsy driving – The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration puts drowsy-related deaths at 684 in 2021. Long drives, long shifts at work, a new baby, sleep disorders and certain medications can put you at risk of falling asleep behind the wheel.

Other common reasons for motor vehicle crashes include aggressive or reckless driving, weather-related crashes and drivers not following traffic laws.

Why Are Veterans More At Risk for Car Crashes?

For Veterans, your time in the military may impact your ability to drive for a number of reasons. Historically, Veterans have had increased fatalities on the roads following their Service. Many factors for this are outlined in research by the National Library of Medicine, including:

  • Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – If you’re experiencing PTSD, you may find driving difficult for a number of reasons. For example, hearing loud noises may cause you to panic. Being stuck in traffic may cause you to drive erratically to avoid feeling trapped, and being constantly on alert for danger may cause you to miss brake lights or red lights.
  • Driving skills learned while in the military – You may have learned to scan the road constantly for danger instead of focusing on the road in front of you. Or to speed up at intersections or not wear a seatbelt. These skills are designed to protect you during a deployment but can have the reverse effect when you’re driving at home.
  • Drug and alcohol use – According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the rates of alcohol and drug use among Veterans are higher than that of the general population. Many Veterans use substances to cope with trauma, chronic pain, sleep conditions or mental health issues they may have developed during Service.
  • Adrenaline-seeking behavior can increase risk – In the military, adrenaline-filled activities are common and sometimes missed when a Veteran returns home. Getting a thrill behind the wheel by driving fast or aggressively is one of the ways Veterans may try to recreate the adrenaline-rich situations experienced during Service.Driving in tunnel.
  • Feelings of invincibility – After being in potentially life-threatening situations during Service, Veterans may feel like they’re invincible upon return home. This may lead to risky driving behavior like not wearing a seatbelt, driving too fast or making aggressive moves.
  • Perceived threats – While on deployment, a crowd of people, an enclosed tunnel or debris on the side of the road may have been an enemy, a trap or a roadside bomb. These perceived threats can make it easy to get distracted while driving at home under normal conditions.

Tips for Safe Driving

While motor vehicle accidents are common, they’re often preventable. Here are some tips you can implement to stay safe on the roads:Hands of man driver using mobile phone while driving.

  • Don’t drive distracted. Your only job when you get behind the wheel is to drive safely, but far too many of us use that time to do other things.
    • Don’t use your cell phone. Texting, making phone calls, scrolling through social media, looking up directions – all of it takes your mind and eyes off the road. Put your phone on “do not disturb” or “drive” mode, so you can stay focused. Pull over or ask a passenger to send a text if it’s urgent.
    • Don’t multitask while driving. You shouldn’t eat a meal in your lap or send an email you forgot to write. It only takes a second of looking away to miss the car in front of you braking suddenly.
  • Don’t drive under the influence. Even when you think you’re OK to drive or that you’ve had just a little, any amount of drugs or alcohol can impact your reaction time, muscle coordination and brain function, as well as get you into legal trouble.
  • Be alert. A good night’s sleep is important to ensure you’re able to focus and react properly on the roads. If your sleep is impacted by insomnia or nightmares, check out Sleep Better: Understanding the Sleep Disorders Affecting Veterans and find out what you can do to get help.
  • Follow safety rules. The rules on the road are designed to protect you.Women putting on motorcycle helmet.
    • Relearn the rules if you have to. If you were deployed, you may have been taught to speed through intersections or to avoid slowing down, but these aren’t safe practices when driving at home. Take some time to relearn the safest way to drive at home.
    • Wear a seatbelt when driving or riding in a car. Buckling up is the single most effective way to protect yourself in a crash. Fifty percent of passenger vehicle occupants killed in 2021 were unrestrained.
    • Wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle to protect yourself from head injury, trauma to your brain and death. In 2021, motorcyclists were about 24 times more likely than passenger vehicle occupants to die in a crash.
  • Don’t tailgate or drive aggressively. Although it can be frustrating when someone is driving slower than the speed limit or is doing something to provoke you on the road, it’s important to stay calm and avoid dangerous moves like tailgating, speeding or getting into a verbal altercation while driving.
  • Be honest with yourself. As you get older, certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, stroke and Parkinson’s, as well as certain medications, can put you at risk for crashes – as they may slow down your reaction time or decrease the sensation in your feet. Talk to your health care provider honestly about your ability to drive safely.
  • Get your adrenaline rush elsewhere. Veterans may miss the rush and excitement that the military offered, but driving isn’t a safe way to get it. Find an activity that allows you to feel those emotions but keeps you safe, like skydiving, rock climbing, mountain biking or even a high-intensity video game.
  • Drive for the weather. As we face more extreme weather, it’s important to understand how to drive safely in severe weather. Slow down when it’s raining or snowing, put your car in four-wheel drive if you encounter snow, stay up to date on your car’s maintenance, avoid flooded roads, and more.
  • Get the help you deserve. If you’re struggling with PTSD and find yourself anxious, hostile or hyperalert behind the wheel, your PTSD may be interfering with your ability to drive safely. VA offers several PTSD treatment options to help you manage your PTSD or other mental health conditions.

Resources

  • The CDC has a lot of information on Transportation Safety, including tips for older drivers, teen drivers, motorcycle drivers and more.
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provides tips to prevent risky driving, including information on speeding, drunk driving, distracted driving and more.
  • VA’s Drive Safe brochure outlines challenges Veterans may face in the early years after returning home from deployment and tips for reducing their risk for injury on the road.

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