BACKGROUND Although road traffic accidents are a major cause of injury and death in children and adolescents, research into their psychological consequences consists mainly of case reports.
METHOD A prospective study was made of young road traffic accident victims: 57 subjects, aged 5-18 years, who had been injured in road traffic accidents, and their parents, were interviewed 2-16 days post-accident and re-examined after 12-15 weeks.
RESULTS Post-accident stress symptoms occurred at both times. There was a decrease of symptom severity between the two interviews, but at the later time, 14% still suffered from moderate or severe post-traumatic stress disorder, 17% from serious traffic-related fears, and parents reported increased mood disturbance in their children compared with the pre-accident period. High levels of distress during and immediately after the accident were associated with severe post-traumatic stress symptoms.
CONCLUSIONS There is an urgent need for healthcare staff working with children and adolescents involved in road traffic accidents to be aware of the potential psychological consequences and the importance of the immediate accident experience on subsequent coping.