Reduce Your Driving Risks After Deployment

Would you like USAA to pay you $25 to take their driving assessment?

They want to hear from members who are on active duty or in the Reserves (or their spouses), or who have retired or separated within the last six months. You must have returned from an overseas deployment in the last six months. The full list of requirements is at USAA’s driving assessment page.

Why is an insurance company paying you for a survey?

Logo of USAA eagle symbol for driving assessment. |

Click to get $25 for taking the driver assessment. (Must be qualified.)

Last month I interviewed John Bird, USAA’s Senior Vice-President for Military Affairs. He’s a submariner too, and it turns out that we served in Pearl Harbor at the same time. (In 1991 we actually spent a few minutes together hatching a prank that made him notorious and got me in a bit of hot water, but that’s a sea story for another post.) He went on to have a very successful military career, and today he’s been at USAA for 18 months.

One of his turnover items was a project on driving safety.

Mr. Bird said he was told that in 2010, the Veterans Administration noticed that servicemembers seemed to be getting into more vehicle accidents after deployment. In 2012, USAA conducted their own database analysis of 158,000 members who’d deployed overseas 171,000 times. They found that the first six months home after deployment are dangerous driving times for servicemembers, with their overall accident rates rising 13%. Junior enlisted saw their accident rates rise by 25%, Army veterans had 23% more accidents, and those who deployed three or more times had a 36% higher rate.

Let’s put that into perspective. Do you know three people who have each deployed three times? Statistically, at least one of them is highly likely to have been in an accident within six months after their third deployment.

Note the table on the second page of that link. (It opens in a new browser tab.) The Army’s Surgeon General produced it for returning servicemembers and their families, and it explains how combat road skills can affect off-duty driving behavior. Did you drive this way when you got home from deployment? Do you know a battle buddy who does?

Later in 2012, USAA surveyed over 700 of its military members. 35% were concerned about driving after deployment, and 10% were “extremely concerned”. However, 55% still weren’t aware of these higher risks.

The study and survey included all deployments, not just those to a combat zone. This meant that combat veterans, especially Marines and Soldiers, might be at an even higher risk of a vehicle accident during their first six months at home. Even worse, they were endangering their families and other drivers as well as themselves.

Followup analysis indicated that combat driving skills which saved servicemember lives in Iraq and Afghanistan were dangerous at home. This included high speeds, abrupt lane changes at underpasses, and swerving around potholes. Accidents resulting from “objects in the road” caused the highest spike during the six months after deployment. Beyond six months, driving accident rates returned to their pre-deployment levels.

USAA shared the study with driving research centers, traffic safety organizations, and the services’ safety centers. However, the information was still not getting out to returning servicemembers– especially those who might not have an active-duty military base support environment: Reservists, National Guard servicemembers, and veterans.

This year, over 5000 servicemembers have returned from deployment every month. Statistically, there could be over 600 more accidents every month across the nation until the deployment cycle winds down and servicemembers have reached at least six months on American roads. USAA says that several hundred veterans have already taken the 2014 assessment. Roughly 35% have noted that they now drive at excessive speed, and 20% have been told by their family that they’re more dangerous behind the wheel.

The 10-question assessment is straightforward and quick. It asks for answers of “always,” “sometimes” or “never” to such questions as:

  • Is driving near parked cars stressful for you?
  • Since returning home, have you been told you drive dangerously?

USAA offers tips like:

  • Learn the road and traffic conditions ahead of time to reduce surprises of construction or congestion.
  • Consider using a different route to avoid tunnels and underpasses.

It’s also worth letting someone else do the driving for the first few weeks as you acclimate through shorter trips at off-peak times. When possible, avoid getting off the deployment plane and driving straight home through rush-hour traffic– perhaps while family and friends are trying to talk with you.

Why would an insurance company offer you $25 to assess your driving behavior? A cynic might speculate that a property & casualty insurer would rather hand out a few bucks to customers for prevention than to potentially pay out millions of dollars in higher claims. However, Mr. Bird says that USAA feels this is important for the safety (and lives) of all drivers, not just USAA members. Senior executives and retired flag/general officers are raising awareness to get people to drive more safely. It’s the right thing to do for everyone.

As USAA collects more data, they’ll share it again with the services and the safety agencies. USAA’s Military Affairs team will share member success stories on behalf of the USAA Educational Foundation. Hopefully, their efforts will encourage drivers to pay more attention to their own road habits.

So if you meet the eligibility requirements then please take the assessment– and let us know what you learned!

Note: A reader suggested that I remind everyone of the FTC disclosure for my financial relationship with USAA. They run ads on this blog, and its owner occasionally earns an affiliate commission from members who sign up for various programs. However, that doesn’t apply for this driving assessment, and I don’t personally earn money from USAA.
But I’ve made lots of friends there and swapped sea stories with a few shipmates.


WHAT I DO: I help you reach financial independence. For free. I retired in 2002 after 20 years in the Navy's submarine force. I wrote "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" to share the stories of over 50 other financially independent servicemembers, veterans, and families. All of my writing revenue is donated to military-friendly charities.

  1. Having been deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan in support of OIF and OEF, I can say that upon returning to “normal” surroundings after redeployment, there was heightened awareness of vehicles on the road as well as those parked along the road…like I was doing an ongoing threat assessment while driving. I drove occasionally in Baghdad, Iraq although not that much in Kabul, Afghanistan, but can understand how adjusting to driving under normal conditions would require some time after driving extensively in combat situations while deployed. I recall reunion briefs prior to redeployment (i.e. how to deal with reuniting with family after being gone for a year) but hardly anything was mentioned about having to curtail driving immediately after returning.

    When I shared this article to some of my military friends, one relayed how his RTO/driver, while deployed to Somalia, got involved in a major accident (while on a motorcycle) immediately after returning home…resulting in jail time and separation from the Army. Fortunately, there was a subsequent story of redemption and triumph over adversity as he was able to get reinstated into the Army much later.

  2. More than once after deployment I just automatically started driving down the left side of the road like I was still on Okinawa. Yikes

    • Ouch!
      I’ve heard from OEF/OIF veterans that during their first few months at home they’re alarmed by erratic drivers and loud road noises. That would be a problem in these islands, and probably just about anywhere in the U.S.

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