Objective: To determine the prevalence of severe psychological trauma --that is, post-traumatic stress disorder--in children involved in everyday road traffic accidents.
Design: 12 month prospective study.
Setting: Accident and emergency department, Royal United Hospital, Bath.
Subjects: 119 children aged 5-18 years involved in road traffic accidents and 66 children who sustained sports injuries.
Main outcome measure: Presence of appreciable psychological distress; fulfillment of diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Results: Post-traumatic stress disorder was found in 41 (34.5%) children involved in road traffic accidents but only two (3.0%) who sustained sports injuries. The presence of post-traumatic stress disorder was not related to the type of accident, age of the child, or the nature of injuries but was significantly associated with sex, previous experience of trauma, and subjective appraisal of threat to life. None of the children had received any psychological help at the time of assessment.
Conclusions: One in three children involved in road traffic accidents was found to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder when they were assessed 6 weeks after their accident. The psychological needs of such children after such accidents remain largely unrecognised.