I was home from Iraq only days before the concept of driving rattled me. My Stryker armored vehicle rarely exceeded 35 miles an hour in combat, so highway speeds felt like the downward surge on a rollercoaster. My hands clenched when I saw debris and objects in the road; they were mere traffic hazards in Seattle but potential IEDs in Baghdad. Vivid streaks of blue and green distracted my driving as I came to understand the problems of heightened sense awareness at home. My unit was showered with brand new motorcycles and speeding tickets.
A recent article highlighted the dangers of reckless driving post-deployment. While it’s a problem facing Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan now, the tragedy is nothing new:
Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are 75% more likely to die in car accidents than the general population. Historically, veterans have had increased fatalities following their service. Vietnam vets were twice as likely to die in crashes than non-veterans, and Gulf War veterans had a 30% to 50% greater risk of dying in crashes.
“It troubles me to tell you that once you get them home safely, they are coming home to risk of death and injury on our roadways,” said Ronald Medford, deputy administration for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in a speech last summer.
It’s perfectly understandable why these accidents occur. Some use the same defensive driving habits learned overseas, while others want to get the same adrenaline fix that comes with ambushes and firefights. Alcohol is often a factor when folks use it to self-medicate their symptoms of post-traumatic stress. These attempts come at a great cost to Veterans and their families, who have already been burdened by absence.
This is an entirely preventable problem. Look for other ways to get your blood pumping instead of driving recklessly. Try something like skydiving or adventure tourism; things that will get your adrenaline going without putting your life, or others, at unnecessary risk. And if you’re using alcohol as a treatment for mental stress, remember that alcohol only makes the problem worse. Seek treatment at VA if you think you have a problem.