The Link Between Suicidal Ideation and Traffic Accidents

Behind reckless driving, lies the desire of many people to end their lives. It's a decision that's not always conscious, and that materializes by the individual increasing the level of risk in their driving. What can be done in the face of this reality?
The Link Between Suicidal Ideation and Traffic Accidents
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 17 December, 2022

Reckless driving isn’t always due to alcohol or drug use. In fact, often, behind this behavior lies a mental problem and the desire to escape from everything and disappear.

In the wake of the pandemic, the number of diagnoses of depression and anxiety has increased considerably. The number of traffic accidents has also increased. Indeed, in the last two years, the number of deaths of people on motorcycles, for example, has been particularly high. The driving maneuvers of those involved were so risky and reckless that many experts were left wondering about the backgrounds of the accidents.

They found answers from those people who managed to survive their accidents. Although these survivors almost never expressed their desire to die, they were often found to be dealing with latent depression and subconscious suicidal ideation. They had an overt disregard for life (both their own and that of others), as well as a desire to escape. So, they simply pressed on the accelerator with a completely blank mind, not thinking about the consequences.

Many of those who experienced suicidal ideation while driving have never attempted suicide in other ways.

Sad boy thinking about suicidal ideation and traffic accidents
We must understand what factors lie behind reckless driving that leads to traffic accidents.

Recklessness as a depressive characteristic

What lies behind the reckless driver? What’s in the mind of the individual who drives well over the legal speed limit and dangerously overtakes other road users?  If such a driver survives, they’ll be subjected to various tests, particularly those related to alcohol and drugs.

However, psychological evaluations aren’t always employed. If they were, we might be surprised at the number of drivers who are majorly depressed. At least, that’s what a 2015 University of Pisa (Italy) study reveals. It claims that, frequently, risk behaviors, impulsiveness, and psychomotor agitation are the result of mental problems.

It’s also common for alcohol to play a part. Indeed, drunk driving increases suicidal ideation and traffic accidents. When people resort to alcohol as a refuge or to escape, they’re trying to mitigate their psychological pain. The disinhibition that alcohol causes further enhances their risky behavior.

The car and the motorcycle become an ideal instrument for self-injury or self-destruction in individuals who are motivated by suicidal ideas.

When we think of someone with depression, we visualize a person lying in bed, apathetic and sobbing, and unable to do much. That’s because we still have a tendency to believe completely biased ideas about mood disorders.

However, depression can manifest itself in a number of ways. The kinds that correlate with reckless driving behaviors typically include the following:

  • Depressions in which risk behaviors, erratic behaviors, drinking alcohol, gambling addiction, etc. appear.
  • Impulsivity. Doing things without thinking.
  • Nervousness and agitation. These people change their plans every few minutes, constantly need to be busy doing something, and can’t really relax.

Some prefer to lose their lives in an accident so that their family never gets to know that they wanted to commit suicide.

Suicidal ideation and traffic accidents

Is it possible to foresee that someone wants to kill themselves while driving? It’s extremely difficult if they haven’t been diagnosed. Indeed, many people are dealing with deep suffering right now but don’t seek specialized help. After all, it isn’t easy to reach everyone. It’s even less simple to anticipate misfortunes such as those linked to suicidal ideation and traffic accidents.

There are two elements that make this reality even more complex.

The desire to stop living isn’t always conscious

This is highly relevant data. Often, those who suffer or cause a traffic accident show subconscious suicidal ideation. They haven’t tried to kill themselves before or even shown self-injurious behavior. However, when they take the steering wheel or the controls of the motorcycle, they just want to escape. So, they let themselves be carried away by the speed at which they’re traveling and allow destiny to decide their fate. Unsurprisingly, this brings unfortunate consequences.

There are also those who expressly seek to commit suicide while driving. It’s often because dying in a traffic accident prevents their family from knowing they want to die.

Lack of appreciation for their life and that of others

It’s a cruel reality that whoever seeks to commit suicide in a traffic accident demonstrates a complete lack of appreciation for life in general. After all, while it may be understandable that they want to take their own life, it’s incomprehensible that they shouldn’t care about killing others as well.

Suicidal ideation and traffic accidents are beyond the comprehension of most of us. One astounding fact is that sometimes, the one who wanted to kill themselves comes out unscathed, leaving some other unsuspecting family to suffer a loss. This suggests an absolute rejection of existence in general, which obviously raises a huge problem.

Cars in the city symbolizing suicidal ideation and traffic accidents
We lack data that can tell us how many accidents are the result of suicidal ideation.

How to deal with this reality

No amount of road safety measures will ultimately be enough to prevent the individual with suicidal ideation from attempting to take their own life. Therefore, we’d first need to know the percentage of claims or incidents that are caused by this variable. This is a complicated objective since we don’t always have the opportunity to evaluate those responsible for these events.

We must take into account that motorized vehicles are extremely useful means for self-destruction or self-injury for those who are experiencing mental problems. The only way to avoid these situations is by taking a look at our environment and by detecting if anyone around us is having a bad time or is exhibiting pathological behavior.

We mustn’t neglect those who are living with discouragement and despair, or who are angry inside. We must be mindful of those who are suffering or who’ve begun to drink excessively. After all, the consequences could be fatal, both for them and for us. We must take action.

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The contents of Exploring Your Mind are for informational and educational purposes only. They don't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment of a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.