Background. Road traffic accidents are known to have significant consequences for mental state and quality of life in the ensuing year that are largely unrelated to the nature of the injuries. Little is known of longer-term outcome in a representative population.
Methods. Questionnaires covering mental state and social adjustment were sent to 770 subjects who had previously participated in a prospective study of consecutive attenders at an emergency department following a road traffic accident and who had completed questionnaires at baseline, 3 months and 1 year. Outcomes were not predicted by measures related to injury type or severity but were predicted by baseline and later non-injury variables.
Results. Replies were received from 507 (66%) subjects. Although 76% of injuries were medically minor bruises and lacerations, 132 (26%) reported symptoms of psychiatric disorder and 104 (21%) moderate or severe pain at 3 years. There was little evidence of improvement in prevalence between 1 and 3 years, with continuing physical symptoms, psychiatric disorder and reported consequences for everyday life. There was a significant reduction in the number of cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) despite there being 21 late onset cases. Psychiatric outcomes and pain were unrelated to the severity of injury and were largely predicted by post-accident variables.
Conclusions. Road traffic accidents have much greater consequences than would be expected from the largely minor nature of the physical injuries. There is a need for changes in medical care and in socio-legal procedures.