The Hidden Trauma on our Roads

A recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald discussed a “hidden issue” on Australian roads that is not being addressed. That “hidden issue” is the trauma symptoms being experienced by our truckies following them being first on scene of a fatal or near fatal traffic accident, and being a “first responder” without having the skills to perform this role effectively (Hastie, 2019). Someone who has no skills, but is first at a traumatic scene such as a fatal car accident are termed, in the literature, as “lay responders” or “lay rescuers” (Aryankhesal, Heidari, & Khorasani-Zavareh, 2018).

Curiously, there is little to no literature researching the prevalence of suffering trauma symptoms (including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; PTSD) in lay responders, despite the World Health Organisation acknowledging that severe psychological complaints such as PTSD can and does occur after witnessing a traumatic event (Australian Centre for Post Traumatic Mental Health, 2010). Indeed, Mathieson, Bjorshol, Braut, and Soreide (2016) documented that lay responders can typically suffer persistent mental recurrences following the witnessed traumatic event, including nightmares and flashbacks (both of which are common symptoms of PTSD).

Lay Responders

Given that lay responders receive little attention in the scientific literature researching traumatic effects of witnessing trauma events, it is not a hard stretch to realise that truck drivers receive even less (given they are not even recognised as lay responders). Thus, truck drivers who are first at the scene of a fatal motor vehicle accident, and are essentially lay responders/rescuers witnessing a traumatic event, are not recognised as “at risk” of developing traumatic symptoms, or PTSD.

So What Needs To Happen?

First, truck drivers who are first at the scene of a trauma incident such as a fatal car accident, need to be recognised as lay responders. By doing so, it follows that these truck drivers are at risk of suffering trauma symptoms, and if left untreated, developing PTSD. Second, a protocol should be set up to provide immediate assistance to all truck drivers who have been first at the scene of a fatal motor vehicle accident, and this protocol needs to follow evidenced guidelines, known to effectively reduce the chances of trauma symptomatology including intrusive thoughts and memories, and avoidance of triggers. Kezelman and Stravropolous (2017) outline the following core principles when “checking in” with those who have witnessed a trauma incident:

  • Checking in with the truck driver in a quiet, safe, and private place
  • Listen to the truck driver, without being distracted
  • Avoiding asking too many questions or asking for details
  • Keeping alert to signs that the truckie is distressed
  • Validate what he or she is saying
  • Provide follow up support

Further, Snobelon et al. (2018) detail that the above “checking in” needs to occur within 2 to 12 hours of the traumatic event, and the follow up support needs to occur within 48 hours of the event, including referral to professional services within 1 week of the event.

If the above “checking in” protocol is followed for each and every truckie on our Australian roads, then problems such as alcoholism, domestic violence, and even suicide, will be significantly reduced in our truckies.


Aryankhesal, A., Heidari, M., & Khorasani-Zavareh, D. (2018). People Present at Road Traffic Crash Scene: Challenges in Defining and Categorising. Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, 12, 1-2. DOI: 10.7860/JCDR/2018/32172.11132

Australian Centre for Post Traumatic Mental Health (2010, Sep 5). Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Retrieved from

Hastie, H. (2019, July 27). Tackling the “hidden issue” of truckies acting as paramedics on           remote Australian roads. The Sydney Morning Herald.

Kezelman, C. & Stavropoulos, P. (2018). Chapter 9: Core principles of trauma-informed practice. Talking about trauma: Guide to conversations, screening and treatment for health care providers (pp. 98-109). Blue Knot Foundation

Mathiesen WT, Bjørshol CA, Braut GS, et al. (2016). Reactions and coping strategies in lay         rescuers who have provided CPR to out-of-hospital cardiac arrest victims: a qualitative study. BMJ Open, 6. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2015- 010671

Snobelon, P., Pellegrino, J., Nevils, G., & Dainty, K. (2018). Helping those who help: The Lay Responder Post-Arrest Support Model. Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, 11.