Although precise data on the actual number of MVAs occurring in the United States are not available, it is estimated that in any one year over 2% of the entire population had a MVA (USDOT, 2000). Accidents occur so often now that the majority of American men and women have at least a minor MVA by the age of 30.
Fortunately, fatalities from MVAs are not a common occurrence. In 2000 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that there were 41,800 motor vehicle fatalities out of an estimated 3,219,000 personal injuries. (USDOT, 2000). The overall cost of MVAs is exorbitant. When one considers the time lost from work, the cost of care for the medical injury, and the impact on the individual"s life, the overall cost is estimated to be in the tens of billions of dollars each year.
The psychological effects of a motor vehicle accident can be disturbing and powerful. The emotional aftermath of a trauma, however, is often not so easy to see. Fortunately, we have begun to recognize the emotional difficulties that can follow an accident.
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is categorized as an anxiety disorder with several major conditions/criteria that need to occur in order to reach a diagnosis. The major categories include: having experienced a traumatic event and being very frightened by it; re-experiencing the traumatic event; avoidance of subsequent events that are similar or reminders of the event; a numbing of feelings and responsiveness as compared to how you felt before the traumatic event; and physical hyperarousal of the person while going through such situations.
PTSD symptoms usually appear within several weeks of the trauma, but some people don"t experience symptoms until months, even years, later. PTSD can last up to six months for some people while others may experience symptoms for much longer. It is important to understand that people respond differently to trauma. Some people will have a few problems, and these problems may go away without treatment. Others will need support and some kind of treatment before they can move forward with their lives.