Today we remember and recognize the dedication of our military service men and women. Called Veteran’s Day in the United States and Remembrance Day by the Commonwealth Countries, it is a day to say “Thank you for your service” and to pay our respects to those who have given their lives while in the service of our country. So, today it is appropriate to provide information to ensure that our veterans live long lives after returning from their deployment. This article will discuss what veterans can do to avoid one of the leading causes of death in the first few years of returning home—motor vehicle crashes.
Veterans and Motor Vehicle Crashes
Motor vehicle crashes are a significant issue for the general population, but they are even more so for those in the military. From 1999 through 2012, 4,423 active military personnel died in noncombat crashes versus the 4,409 of our soldiers killed in the Iraq war.  In the past, we rightfully expressed our grief and discussed what could be done to keep our servicemen and women safe while in a combat zone, but said or did little about the risks to their safety once they return home. Fortunately, that is changing. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Department of Defense (DOD) have come together to develop the Veterans’ Safe Driving Initiative: Home Safe, Drive Safe, Stay Safe.
When our servicemen and women return home, especially if they were in combat zones, their driving can be aggressive and risky. In a combat zone, they are trained to look for roadside bombs and consider quickly approaching vehicles as potential threats. Driving “reckless” in Iraq and Afghanistan, running stop signs and weaving in and out of traffic, may in fact be safe driving. A 2009 Army study showed that while deployed, 50% of soldiers said they were anxious when other cars approached quickly, 23% had driven through stop signs, and 20% were anxious during normal driving. Upon returning home, the adjustment to driving can be difficult. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are 75% more likely to die in car crashes than the general population. While veterans from previous wars saw increases in motor vehicle fatalities following their service, it is now significantly higher for those coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Safe Driving Initiative
In 2009, the Safe Driving Initiative was created with both short- and long-term considerations in mind. In the short-term, it includes a Public Health Information Campaign reaching out to the various veteran service organizations, state governors, law enforcement officials, and motor vehicle dealers and manufacturers. NASCAR legend and safe driving advocate Richard Petty is also a partner in the initiative. (See below PSA with Richard Petty.) Designed to increase a veteran’s awareness of motor vehicle risks, the focus is on:
- Impaired Driving Prevention (as a driver and as a passenger with an impaired driver)
- Wearing seat belts, and
- Wearing a helmet when riding a motorcycle
Additionally the VA and the DOT have developed a Veterans’ Traffic Safety Strategic Research Plan to look at the long-term answers, understanding that there are still a lot of questions that need answers, questions that include considerations of epidemiology, psychology, and biomechanics.
Drive Safe, Stay Safe
The short answers for our returning veterans, and everyone else, to live a longer life are: don’t drink and drive; don’t ride with someone that is impaired; wear a seatbelt in a car, and a helmet while on a motorcycle. Our veterans made it home in part because of their awareness of the dangers while in combat. Here at home, there are other dangers. Developing an awareness of these dangers and acting on them can help everyone remain safe.
We have a long way to go in recognizing the dedication of our service men and women, but this is a start—making sure that once they are back home safe, they remain so on our nation’s roads.
Richard Petty Video/PSA
 Motor Vehicle Crashes: A Little-Known Risk to Returning Veterans Of Iraq and Afghanistan. The Washington Post: Health & Science. May 5, 2013.
 Tragedy On Wheels: Why Returning Vets Are In Frequent Car Crashes. AOL Autos, October 11, 2011, Obtained from: http://autos.aol.com/article/returning-vets-in-frequent-car-crashes/.