Commentary

Saunders: Vets know better than to text and drive

bsaunders@newsobserver.comMarch 2, 2014 

The fear of meeting one’s demise on a country road back home while texting Sweet Thang to see if she wants whole-wheat pasta or the regular kind pales in comparison to ducking incoming missiles and tiptoeing around IEDs, right?

So who’s surprised to hear that texting and driving is a serious problem among members of our military?

No one should be. A recent survey and report by the United Services Automobile Association shows that military members are just as likely as civilians to text and drive, and officers are more likely to do it than anyone else, even teenage girls.

What is surprising in the survey of 903 members of all five military branches, though, is that those service members who have been sent into combat are less likely to engage in the dangerous practice than those who haven’t been to war.

Hmmph. Wouldn’t you think that the people fighting our war – and yes, despite what you see or, more accurately, don’t see, on the evening news, we’re still fighting a war – would develop a certain fatalism, if not indifference, to danger?

Think again, said Joel Camarano, assistant vice president of property and casualty underwriting for the USAA. Camarano said, “That was a pleasant, unexpected finding, that those who have been deployed – especially those who’ve been deployed multiple times – tend not to exhibit this dangerous behavior.”

Some of the military members surveyed were from Fort Bragg. Those members who’ve been deployed are less likely to endanger everyone else on the road by texting and driving by a margin of 39 percent to 53 percent. Officers are more likely to do it.

Oy. Put the phone down, general.

Camarano said, “We did not dig deeper to try to understand why” returning, battle-tested men and women are more likely to keep their cellphones holstered until they stop driving, but he has theories. First, he surmised, perhaps those who have been deployed “were able to break themselves of the habit” because for long periods they didn’t have access to a phone or a car.

“In addition, when you’re overseas, especially in a combat zone, a hostile environment,” he said, “you’re really forced to (concentrate on) the task at hand. … You’re not worried about what’s going on with your cellphone. Your life depends upon being vigilant.”

Great theories, both, but I have one, too.

Maybe, just maybe, those soldiers who’ve returned safely from the shadow of the valley of death develop a greater appreciation for life and feel less inclined to tempt fate even further. Gen. George S. Patton, one of the nation’s most highly decorated officers, survived numerous battles, including the Battle of the Bulge and the Allied Invasion of Sicily. He died of injuries sustained in a jeep accident months after the war ended while going to hunt pheasant.

The USAA report and study, Camarano said, wasn’t conducted so any group, especially not service members, could be singled out for scorn. He said USAA, which was started to provide auto insurance for veterans who couldn’t get insurance, “is concerned about the safety of our members and their families. We’ve created a website called www.itcanwait.usaa.com, which has information on the dangers … more importantly,” he said, the website encourages USAA’s members and the general public to take a pledge to refrain from texting and driving.

Swell idea, don’t you think? To those who take the pledge and maintain it, we salute you, whether you’re in the military or not.

To those who insist upon driving with your attention divided between that cell phone and that hurtling piece of steel machinery you’re putatively in control of, we salute you, too.

But not with the whole hand.

Put down the phone and drive.

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or bsaunders@newsobserver.com

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