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Overview of Unintentional Injuries in the U.S.

Unintentional injuries refer to fatal and nonfatal injuries that are unplanned and often preventable. Examples of the most common unintentional injuries in the U.S. include:

  • Poisonings, including drug overdose
  • Motor vehicle crashes, including occupant, pedestrian, bicycle, and all-terrain vehicle (ATV) incidents
  • Falls
  • Drowning
  • Suffocation
  • Unintentional firearm injuries
  • Fires and burns
  • Injuries involving a person being struck by or against an object

Between 1981 and 2021, unintentional injury accounted for more deaths of people aged 1 to 44 in the U.S. than any other cause. Although most types of unintentional injuries have been declining over time, unintentional poisonings have been on the rise since 2010 due to the national opioid crisis. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2018, unintentional poisoning, including drug overdose, was the leading cause of injury death for adults aged 25 to 64 and made up the largest overall number of deaths. Deaths from drug overdose vary by location.

While unintended injuries can affect all ages, types of unintentional injuries and outcomes can vary across age groups, racial and ethnic groups, and location. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), unintentional motor vehicle traffic accidents were the leading causes of injury death for youth aged 5 to 9 and 15 to 24 in 2018. Unintentional falls are a leading type of nonfatal injury across most age groups but are especially harmful for older adults. In 2018, unintentional falls were the leading cause of injury death for adults over the age of 65.

There are also racial and ethnic disparities related to unintentional injuries. One study examining patterns of disparities in unintentional mortality rates determined that White people across most age groups experienced the highest rates of mortality from unintentional poisonings and Black males experienced the highest rates of mortality from motor vehicle accidents. Another study examining racial and ethnic differences in pediatric unintentional injuries, found that Black children were at greater risk of hospitalization for unintentional injuries than White children, especially for injuries caused by a firearm.

This toolkit provides information about implementing programs to prevent several different types of unintentional injuries in rural communities, including childhood poisoning. The toolkit does not specifically focus on poisoning related to drug-related overdose. For more information on that topic, please refer to the following related toolkits:

Resources to Learn More

Injury Prevention & Control
Offers information and national data on fatal, nonfatal, and unintentional injuries. Includes research reports about injury prevention and control and identifies collaborative efforts with partnering agencies to support prevention and raise awareness.
Organization(s): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention