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National Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention

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Safe Driving Tips for Veterans

When most people hop in a car or get on a motorcycle to go to work or run an errand, they probably don’t think about the risks of driving. But maybe they should.

About 6,400 adults are injured in vehicle crashes every day, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for people ages 25 – 34. And motorcycle deaths nearly doubled from 1997 to 2013—a year in which over 4,600 motorcyclists died and 88,000 motorcyclists were injured!

The statistics show that Veterans need to be particularly aware of driving safety. They are twice as likely as non-Veterans to have a fatal motor vehicle crash. These crashes are also the leading cause of death in Veterans in the early years after they return from deployment.

“One reason for this is that military experience may have taught them not to use seat belts, unlike like most civilians,” explains Kathy Pittman, Prevention Practice Program Manager at the VHA National Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (NCP). “But we know that adult seat belt use is the single most effective way to save lives and reduce injuries—seat belts reduce serious injuries and deaths in crashes by about 50%.” And studies have shown that wearing a helmet greatly improves motorcycle safety, too. One review, for example, found that motorcycle helmets reduced the risk of head injury by 69% and the risk of death by 42%!

Distracted Driving Sign

In addition to regular seatbelt and helmet use, Pittman says that there are several other proven ways Veterans can reduce their risk of getting into a motor vehicle or motorcycle crash:

  • Put away the phone. Texting and talking on a cell phone while driving are part of a long list of things—reading, eating, brushing your hair, applying make-up—that can distract you and increase your risk of an accident. So when you drive, stay focused on the road.
  • Don't drive while impaired…or ride with a driver who is. Impaired driving is driving while drunk, high, stoned, or tipsy—in other words, under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or some prescription medications. It also includes driving when severely sleep-deprived. So if you’re impaired in any way, stay away from your car or motorcycle!
  • Know your body. Older drivers with Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, stroke, and diabetes can be at greater risk for crashes. That’s because these conditions can slow reaction time, affect motor skills, decrease sensations in the hands and feet, and increase the risk of passing out. If you have these and other medical conditions, talk with your doctor about how to stay safe.
  • Know what you’re taking. Just like certain medical conditions, some medications can negatively affect your driving ability. So talk with your provider about the medicines you are taking, and what you can do to be a safe driver.

“These driving tips really aren’t that hard to follow, and they can dramatically reduce the risk of a vehicle crash, injury, or death,” says Pittman. “And with practice, they can become simple, healthy habits that can help Veterans live longer, healthier, happier lives.”


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