Psychological disorders as consequences of involvement in motor vehicleaccidents: a discussion and recommendations for a research program

Monash University Accident Research Centre – Report #153 - 1999

Author: W.A. Harrison

Full report in .pdf format [1.3MB]


The potential consequences of crash involvement in the Psychological domain are discussed, based on the small corpus of relevant literature and additional material concerning psychological disorders thought to occur as a result of exposure to traumatic events. The results of an analysis of Victorian crash data suggest that the lifetime risk of developing psychological disorders resulting from injury in a crash is quite high. For post traumatic stress disorder, for example, this risk is estimated at 13.1%. It is concluded that there is a need to conduct research in this area to investigate the psychological consequences of crash involvement in the Australian context and to develop and evaluate therapeutic interventions which might reduce the impact of crash involvement.

Executive Summary

This report is the result of concerns about the lack of interest in the likelihood that the psychological consequences of crash involvement may have a significant long-term impact on crash victims. 'Re possibility that there may be substantial social and medical/paramedical costs associated with psychological trauma has not been investigated in the Australian context, and there is relatively little research in this area in the international road-safety literature.

This report presents a general overview of the involvement of psychological processes in the crash event and recovery, and then focuses on the likely development of psychological disorders as a result of crash involvement. Four specific disorders are discussed, and using information drawn from the literature, crash data from Victoria, and the 1996 population census, estimates of the lifetime risk of developing each disorder as a result of injury in a crash were calculated. These are:

Acute Anxiety Disorder 5.7%
Specific (Driving) Phobia 6.6%
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder 13.1%
Major Depressive Disorder >6.0%

The limitations of data in this area are discussed, and a two-component research program is recommended involving an initial project to collect data concerning the psychological consequences of crash involvement and a series of smaller investigations to compare the use of various therapeutic modalities as treatments for those suffering these consequences.

Sponsoring organisation: Special Monash University Research Fund