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Driving risks emerge as veterans cope with traumatic brain injuries

A recent review of veteran driving records reveals that service members are 13 percent more likely to cause an accident after deployment, particularly within the six months after an overseas tour. The numbers point to a very personal problem for many veterans - that driving is now a daunting and frightening task.

The problems are being identified as symptoms of traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder. Brain damage can be highly disabling, and veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are experiencing traumatic brain injuries at a very high rate. A lead researcher on driving problems in people with brain injuries told the New York Times recently, "I can't talk with somebody who is a returned service member without them telling me about driving issues."

The Pentagon is funding new studies to examine links between dangerously aggressive driving or overly defensive driving and deployment. Although this is not the first war to produce veterans with driving problems, effective treatments are not fully developed yet.

Many veterans react to perceived danger by using driving techniques that they learned in Iraq during the height of the insurgency. One veteran told interviewers that she finds herself avoiding crowded parking lots where there is no obvious escape route. She said that she avoids curbs for fear that bombs may be buried behind them. Others have said that they speed through intersections to avoid gunfire and are constantly scanning the roadside for danger instead of watching what is in front of them.

48 soldiers died in off-duty vehicle accidents last year, according to Army statistics. This is the highest total in the past three years.

Source: New York Times, "Back From War, Fear and Danger Fill Driver's Seat," James Dao, Jan. 10, 2012

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