The study uncovered major flaws in teens' understanding of factors that can lead to trauma-related injuries.
While teenage drivers have the highest motor vehicle crash and fatality rate, scientists claim that existing injury prevention initiatives often fall short of countering flawed beliefs and must better demonstrate - especially to teens - how and why their young age puts them at greater risk for injury.
The results revealed that teenagers consistently underestimate risk in motor vehicle situations and believe that vehicle and highway design are more likely to cause crashes than human error does.
The participants thought that because of their age and agility, they were better able to overcome the effects of poor driving conditions or intoxicants compared with more experienced drivers.
Besides, teens participating in the study believed strongly that medical care, particularly in young people, is virtually always effective.
"Students need to comprehend that it is lack of judgment, not only lack of skill, that increases the risk of injury to one's self and others. 'Not wanting something bad to happen' is simply not enough. In addition to giving teens the knowledge and teaching them the technical skills, injury prevention programs must also address teens' attitudes about being immune to illness and death as a means of changing high-risk behaviours, such as driving while impaired," said Najma Ahmed, MD, PhD, FACS, assistant trauma director, St. Michael's Hospital, University of Toronto.
The researchers aimed to study the effect of injury-prevention programs on injury-related knowledge and risk assessment. For this, they analysed 262 high school students participating in a one-day injury prevention program.
The program included didactic sessions, as well as a tour of an intensive care unit, where students met a young person who had either suffered a mild traumatic brain or a spinal cord injury.
Students were divided into three groups: participants who completed a questionnaire eight days after participating in the program; participants who completed the questionnaire 30 days after attending the program and a control group of students who completed a questionnaire prior to the program.
One-third of the students were randomly selected to participate in a second qualitative phase four to six months after participation in the program.
The findings focus on the need for repeated participation in injury prevention initiatives. Risk perception scores improved considerably among program participants, and this improvement was more durable over time than the acquisition of didactic knowledge.
Researchers attributed this outcome to the strong emotional responses evoked during the visit to the trauma center, engagement with an injured peer, and an active reflection component embedded into the study design.
The study published in the latest issue of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.