car accident ptsd

PTSD and Car Accidents – Is it Real?

The short answer is yes.  A single incident, such as a car crash, can cause post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. We often hear about PTSD in relation to soldiers returning from war. It used to be referred to as “shell shock.”

The individual may re-run what he or she experienced in a continuous loop in their brain. A single incident trauma such as a car wreck, sexual assault, and a gunshot wound can also spark recall of the traumatic event and subsequent anxiety and repetitive thinking.

PTSD and Car Accidents

Car accidents are the leading cause of post-traumatic stress disorder in the general population.

The National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that there are more than three million total crashes annually involving passenger cars, trucks, and motorcycles.  Among those, the National Institute of Mental Health predicts 39.2% of motor vehicle accident survivors develop PTSD.

PTSD can affect personality, sleep, and general wellness. Sufferers may experience flashbacks, nightmares, auditory or visual memories. Hyper-anxiety can take the form of an increased heart rate, sweating, nightmares, and increased respiration. Some people may become depressed or withdrawn as a result of the traumatic event.

Some turn to self-medicating with drugs or alcohol as sort of an emotional numbing to avoid the event.

Often these symptoms will not go away on their own. If symptoms of PTSD last more than a month, you may be formally diagnosed with the condition. Many will have a difficult time regaining the quality of life they enjoyed before the trauma unless they enter therapy.

There are several risk factors for PTSD. For example, a history of trauma or a family history of trauma can increase the risk for the condition. If there is a high level of emotion associated with the auto accident, such as guilt associated with causing a life-altering injury to a passenger that too could increase the risk of PTSD.

Although it may not sound rational, after a car accident, a former driver may begin to feel that driving is not safe and may avoid getting behind the wheel again.


People can suffer from untreated PTSD for decades but as recognition increases, so do recognized treatments. According to research from the Medical College of Wisconsin, treatment may involve getting behind the wheel again and shifting your thoughts from the event to the present.

Someone may coach the driver through his fear to begin driving again. The driver’s memories will not go away but will have to be managed in response to those memories. 

Treatment will involve acknowledging that being nervous and upset is normal. Open lines of communication must be established in any form of PTSD treatment. Note also that treatment may be an ongoing process.  

The worst thing is to avoid getting in the car and letting the fear and memories become the new normal. Do not let symptoms progress without seeking the help of a professional.

Your Auto Accident Attorney

The experienced personal injury lawyers at Burns, Cunningham, and Mackey have helped thousands of individuals after their auto accidents seek recovery and compensation.

We understand that there is more to an auto accident than property damage. There may also be soft-tissue damage and head trauma. As part of your recovery, you may not even be aware that PTSD has become part of your life since it may not be part of the routine screening for trauma patients.

If not, we can help guide you to be screened for PTSD symptoms and to seek additional comprehensive treatment after your car accident.

We all react differently to things after a major life-altering event, and we do not judge you for how you feel.

The Burns, Cunningham, and Mackey law firm wants you to know that PTSD can become part of your damages claim following an auto accident. We will also seek compensation for medical bills and lost wages.  PTSD can be diagnosed and we will bring in the appropriate experts to testify on your behalf and calculate a dollar amount of compensation.

We offer compassionate care of your case and make sure you receive the treatment you need to help you return to the quality life you enjoyed before the accident. Call our Mobile, Alabama office today at (800) 574-4332 so we can get started on your case.

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