FRIDAY, Aug. 31, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. soldiers are at greatest risk for injury in a Humvee crash during combat or if they are the driver or gunner, a new study finds.
The Humvee -- highly mobile multipurpose wheeled vehicle -- is a four-wheel drive light truck widely used in the U.S. military.
Motor vehicle crashes involving both privately owned and military vehicles account for nearly one-third of all U.S. military deaths a year and are among the top five causes of hospitalization for personnel, according to the U.S. Department of the Army.
"Nearly half of all those involved in motor vehicle crashes in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan from 2002 to 2006 were in Humvees at the time of the crash," study principal investigator Keshia Pollack, an associate professor with the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in a Hopkins news release.
"It's critical that we consider risk factors for these crashes, and use this knowledge to develop injury prevention programs and policies," she explained.
For example, given that the risk of injury in a Humvee crash is higher during combat, it could be a good idea to train all drivers in combat-like situations through simulation or live-training exercises. And because gunners are often in an exposed position on top of the vehicle, the military should consider equipment or devices that protect gunners from injury in rollover crashes.
The researchers analyzed data on U.S. Army vehicle crashes from 1999 to 2006 and focused on active duty Army, Army Reserve and National Guard soldiers involved in military vehicle crashes in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
"The finding that the odds of being injured when the crash occurred in combat indicates that in a high-stress situation, the soldier may be distracted or less likely to take self-protective measures or follow safety regulations," study co-author Susan Baker, a professor with the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy, said in the news release.
"As motor vehicle crashes are responsible for one-third of all U.S. military deaths annually, it's imperative that significant measures be taken to save lives," she added.
The study was published in the August issue of the journal Military Medicine.
The U.S. Department of Defense's Deployment Health Clinical Center offers a list of specific health conditions and concerns for deployed personnel.