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Returning military troops cause more car accidents, study says

Almost any member of the military who's been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan will tell you that driving through a war zone takes a special set of skills. Driving fast, not stopping in traffic and making sudden, unpredictable turns are all crucial when you're at risk of running over a roadside bomb or being hit by enemy fire. But the skills these service members hone overseas can pose a high risk of car accidents when they return to the United States.

A newly released study found a 13 percent increase in at-fault accidents for military service members within the first six months of their return from deployment overseas. Army veterans saw the greatest rate increase at 23 percent, followed by Marines at 13 percent, Navy veterans at 3 percent and Air Force members at 2 percent. Enlisted troops had a higher rate increase than officers, with those under age 22 experiencing the highest rates. The findings of the study, conducted by USAA Property & Casualty Insurance Group, confirmed what many have long suspected: Aggressive driving can keep you safe in a combat zone, but it can seriously hurt you and others when you're back home.

One retired Army master sergeant understands this dichotomy from experience. In 2007 he was seriously wounded in Afghanistan when his vehicle was targeted by a small car carrying explosives. Upon returning home he realized that he didn't like vehicles driving too close to his, and cars traveling at the same speed as his made him uneasy. Even merging cars were a problem. He says it took a concentrated effort to control his aggressive driving.

Other war veterans have said their spouses hate being passengers in the car when they're driving. Seeing objects in the road such as a large piece of trash or a pothole repair job -- both of which might turn out to be an IED in a war zone -- can cause veteran drivers to veer off unexpectedly, which creates a risk of a crash with another vehicle. Many returning troops also get nervous driving near overpasses and congested traffic areas.

Some veterans have said that with all the effort that goes into training troops how to drive in war zones, there should be some retraining for those who are returning to civilian life. Reconditioning soldiers to drive confidently without the fears they faced overseas could bring the accident statistics down and keep them, their families and other drivers on the road safe.

Source: The Los Angeles Times, "Troops back from deployment more likely to cause car accidents," Jerry Hirsch, April 24, 2012

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