Late Breaking News
Safe Driving Campaign for Veterans: Home Safe, Drive Safe, Stay Safe
Richard Petty, the NASCAR legend and safe driving advocate, is the spokesman for the Department of Veterans Administration (VA) “Home Safe, Drive Safe, Stay Safe” program. His program, the “Richard Petty Driving Experience,” has promoted and taught advanced safe driving skills for 16 years and has the commitment, knowledge to teach, and the infrastructure to take this initiative to many markets.
The Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Transportation (DoT), an agency with experience in improving driving safety, are partnering with the VA in this program to increase awareness of the importance of safe driving among newly returned combat veterans and to identify research to reduce their increased risk of death from motor vehicle accidents (MVAs).
According to Noel Eldridge from the VA National Center for Patient Safety, “the goal of ‘Veterans Safe Driving Initiative’ is to reduce deaths of veterans due to motor vehicle accidents.” This initiative is a joint project with the VA Office of Public Health and Environmental Hazards.
Statistics have shown that after returning from deployments, Service members and veterans have a higher rate of motor vehicle death during their first several years back. This has been identified in Vietnam veterans and in those returning from the 1990-1991 Gulf War. The same has been true for those returning from Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) deployments from 2002 through 2006. Their rate of MVA death is 1.75 times higher than that of those of the same age, race, and sex who had not deployed. The reasons why this is occurring are not well understood.
In the United States, MVAs are the eighth leading cause of death, causing approximately 45,000 deaths a year. For those individuals between 15 and 44 years of age, MVAs are the leading cause of death, causing about 25,000 deaths a year. These rates, while still significant, are reduced by 75% from 1966 rates. This shows that the problem can be effectively addressed. DoD implemented various programs in 2003 to reduce deaths from MVAs, and by 2008, the numbers were down by 15%. However deaths due to motorcycle accidents were up by 75%. Reducing drunk driving, increasing seat belt use, improving road safety and automobile technology, and improved trauma care have all saved lives. New VA programs to ask all patients about drinking behaviors and reducing patients on high doses of certain sleeping medications are aimed at reducing MVAs and saving lives.
The Veterans’ Safe Driving Initiative aims to increase awareness of motor vehicle crashes among veterans and their families, as well as the importance of driving sober, seatbelt and helmet use, and other measures to save lives. The initiative includes outreach to national veterans’ associations, State police and highway safety officers, and the community at large, especially those businesses related to automobiles and motorcycles. To reach out to veterans and their families, VA has created a national educational program using the Department’s network of medical centers, community clinics, drop-in counseling centers, and veterans’ benefits offices.
The strategic research plan will lay out research needs and identify new priorities for the initiative. Experts in transportation safety, veterans’ health and medical care, and public health, are working to identify gaps in current knowledge and key research questions in fields such as epidemiology, psychology, and biomechanics. Participants in the strategic planning process include scientists and policy officials from VA, DoD, and DoT, as well as from the Department of Health and Human Services and non-governmental experts. By combining forces, they will be able to collect and analyze data that will be used to develop a comprehensive outreach initiative to target veterans with specific needs, and ultimately, saving lives.
Our returning veterans have put themselves in harm’s way to protect and serve our country. This initiative attempts to partially return the favor by providing valuable information to keep our veterans and their families safe when traveling. Summer is a wonderful time to reconnect with those we care about, and to enjoy off-duty activities. This season, the Military Health System is hoping veterans and their families take care of each other by encouraging co-workers, families, and friends to make the summer season fun—home safe, drive safe, stay safe.
For additional information, please visit the Veterans’ Safe Driving Initiative web site, which is accessible at www.safedriving.va.gov.