Ask military service member who has spent time in Iraq or Afghanistan what it’s like to drive over there and you will hear stories of high-speed sprints and wild evasive maneuvers to reduce the risk of being blown up by a roadside bomb. Unfortunately, some returning veterans are bringing those driving behaviors home with them. The problem has been around for years, stretching all the way back to the first Gulf War and beyond. The military doesn’t like to talk about it and the Veterans Administration is only now starting programs to reduce dangerous driving by veterans. While the nation waits for the VA, thousands of motorists are at risk on highways and even neighborhood streets.
A University of Minnesota researcher who is leading efforts to control dangerous driving by returning service members does not see this as an extension of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or a result of traumatic brain injury. Rather, it is learned behavior that comes from the constant threat of ambushes, roadside bombs or improvised explosive devices. Veterans didn’t have to be drivers to absorb the habits. Everyone in a military vehicle was constantly on the lookout.
Some of those battlefield habits that come home include staying in the center of the road instead of keeping right as drivers do here. Combat drivers weave through traffic and change lanes unexpectedly, and so do some vets. Military drivers kept moving and never stopped for traffic and people; at home they roll through stop signs and blow red lights and never yield to other vehicles. High speeds and hyper-vigilance are other common traits. Sometimes friends and family refuse to get into cars with them.
The Veterans Administration is starting driver re-education programs at a few facilities, but not nearly enough to meet demand. Participants use driving simulators to re-acclimate to civilian rules of the road and receive therapy to deal with anxiety and fear that seriously affects their civilian driving habits. These habits are not deliberate recklessness, but rather learned survival behaviors that kept them alive overseas. They deserve our sympathy and compassion, but they also deserve help.
Source: Austin Statesman, “After returning home many veterans get into motor vehicle accidents,” Sep. 30, 2012