Intended for healthcare professionals

Research Article

Psychiatric consequences of road traffic accidents.

British Medical Journal 1993; 307 doi: (Published 11 September 1993) Cite this as: British Medical Journal 1993;307:647
  1. R Mayou,
  2. B Bryant,
  3. R Duthie
  1. University Department of Psychiatry, Warneford Hospital, Oxford.


    OBJECTIVE--To determine the psychiatric consequences of being a road traffic accident victim. DESIGN--Follow up study of road accident victims for up to one year. SETTING--Emergency department of the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford. SUBJECTS--188 consecutive road accident victims aged 18-70 with multiple injuries (motorcycle or car) or whiplash neck injury, who had not been unconscious for more than 15 minutes, and who lived in the catchment area. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES--Present state examination "caseness"; post-traumatic stress disorder and travel anxiety; effects on driving and on being a passenger. RESULTS--Acute, moderately severe emotional distress was common. Almost one fifth of subjects, however, suffered from an acute stress syndrome characterised by mood disturbance and horrific memories of the accident. Anxiety and depression usually improved over the 12 months, though one tenth of patients had mood disorders at one year. In addition, specific post-traumatic symptoms were common. Post-traumatic stress disorder occurred during follow up in one tenth of patients, and phobic travel anxiety as a driver or passenger was more common and frequently disabling. Emotional disorder was associated with having pre-accident psychological or social problems and, in patients with multiple injuries, continuing medical complications. Post-traumatic syndromes were not associated with a neurotic predisposition but were strongly associated with horrific memories of the accident. They did not occur in subjects who had been briefly unconscious and were amnesic for the accident. Mental state at three months was highly predictive of mental state at one year. CONCLUSIONS--Psychiatric symptoms and disorder are frequent after major and less severe road accident injury. Post-traumatic symptoms are common and disabling. Early information and advice might reduce psychological distress and travel anxiety and contribute to road safety and assessing "nervous shock."