Whiplash injury, common after a motor vehicle crash, has a variable prognosis that is difficult to predict. To assess the role of various factors on this prognosis, we assembled a historical cohort of 3014 individuals who sustained a whiplash injury resulting from a motor vehicle crash in the Province of Quebec, Canada, in 1987 and were followed for 6 years. The data were obtained from the computerized databases created by the province's universal automobile insurance plan and police accident reports. The recovery time from whiplash, as measured by duration of compensation, was the primary outcome. Socio-demographic and crash-related factors measured at the time of the crash were investigated. The median recovery time for the cohort was 31 days, with 22% recovering within a week and 3% still not recovered after 1 year. For the 1551 subjects with a whiplash injury only, the socio-demographic factors that were found to be independently associated with a slower recovery from whiplash in this cohort are female gender, older age, having dependents, and not having full-time employment. The significant crash-related factors are occupancy in a truck or bus, being a passenger in the vehicle, colliding with a moving object, and being in a head-on or perpendicular collision. We classified the subjects according to a prediction score ranging from 0 to 11, devised from these factors. Subjects with a score of 0 to 2, that is those who had at most two risk factors present, had the fastest median recovery time of 19 days compared with 71 days for subjects who had a score of 6 or more. We conclude that several sociodemographic and crash-related factors are independently associated with a slow and costly recovery from whiplash injury. They are easily measurable at the time of the crash and combined so as to be simply incorporated in intervention programs aimed at early identification and management of whiplash patients with a poor prognosis.