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Does military service teach dangerous driving behaviors?

In recent years, there has been a significant increase in car accidents involving military veterans in California and throughout the country. A 2006 study found that returning troops were 75 percent more likely than civilians to be killed in auto accidents. Further, the study found that military veterans were 148 percent more likely to be killed in a motorcycle accident than civilians.

With the release of this and similar data, researchers and traffic safety officials are working to determine the reason that military veterans have this increased car accident risk. Ultimately, it seems to be largely related to roadside bombs, a constant threat throughout the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

Researchers have pinpointed some of the risky driving behaviors learned in those conflicts and determined how they might contribute to car accidents after troops return home.

  • During deployment, troops drive as far as possible from the edge of the road to avoid bombs. At home, they may drive in the middle of the road.
  • During deployment, troops change lanes unexpectedly. At home, they may weave in and out of traffic and fail to signal turns or lane changes.
  • During deployment, troops do not stop for traffic or people. At home, they may fail to yield the right of way and roll through stop signs and traffic lights.

Certainly, dangerous driving behaviors learned in combat are a big reason for the increase in auto accidents. But researchers believe that post-combat adrenaline and invincibility are a big part of the reason that veterans are drawn to motorcycles and more likely to drive them unsafely. "You think, 'I just came back from Iraq,'" said psychologist Eric Kuhn, "'so how dangerous is going 100 mph on a motorcycle?'"

Source: Austin American-Statesman, "After returning home, many veterans get into motor vehicle accidents," Sept. 30, 2012

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