Psychological factors have been alleged to be important in the course and outcome of 'whiplash' neck injury but there is little quantitative evidence. This study uses quantitative methods involving a prospective interview assessment to describe psychological and quality of life predictors, and 3 and 12 month outcome. Consecutive attenders to the Accident and Emergency department of a teaching district hospital with a clinical diagnosis of 'whiplash' neck injury were included and there were follow-up interviews at home. Neck symptoms were recorded, and there was a standard mental-state interview with added questions about post-traumatic symptoms and a semi-structured interview for disability and consequences for quality of life. There was a wide individual variation in course and outcome; the majority of subjects complained of persistent neck symptoms and a sizeable minority reported specific post-traumatic psychological symptoms (intrusive memory, phobic travel anxiety), similar to those described by patients suffering multiple injuries. Social impairment, including effects on travel, were considerable in one-quarter. Reports of persistent neck symptoms were not associated with any baseline psychological variables or with compensation proceedings; psychological factors appeared to be more important in determining the extent of social impairment. We conclude that travel, social and psychological morbidity is substantially greater than previously recognized.