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Policy Considerations and Opportunities for Unintentional Injury Prevention Programs

Policies for unintentional injury prevention should have clear goals, objectives, and coordinated and prioritized activities to prevent unintentional injuries and reduce their impact. Developing unintentional injury prevention policies offers opportunities for programs to:

  • Create a shared vision for unintentional injury prevention among community partners
  • Foster coordination between community partners
  • Facilitate the allocation of resources and funds towards unintentional injury prevention efforts
  • Change behaviors that lead to unintentional injury

Assessing the Situation and Gaining Support

Unintentional injury prevention programs should consider conducting three different assessments before developing policies. Information gained from these assessments positions programs to make the case for unintentional injury prevention policies and gain support of decision-makers.

First, programs can conduct an epidemiological assessment to better understand the scope of the unintentional injury of interest. For example, a community risk analysis allows fire departments to better understand fire-related death and injury rates in their communities by identifying leading fire risks, where fires occur, and which populations are at highest risk. The second is a review of existing policies and interventions to determine the effectiveness of efforts in place. The third is a stakeholder analysis to identify key partners, their influence on policy development and implementation, and how they might be affected by the policy.

Potential community partners involved in assessing the situation may include:

  • Elected officials
  • Policymakers
  • Regional and local governments
  • Universities
  • Research and policy institutes
  • Community groups (for example, women's health or religious groups)

To push policies forward, unintentional injury prevention programs will need to engage and gain the support of community members and groups. A stakeholder analysis can help programs identify key partners to support the policy development process. The Rural Health Equity Toolkit discusses considerations for engaging community members in community health programs.

Developing Policies and Other Considerations

Assessing what existing organizational policies are in place is an important step in developing any new unintentional injury policies. If existing policies are ineffective, programs may need to consider additional strategies for addressing unintentional injuries.


Many states and jurisdictions have laws and regulations that can help rural communities prevent unintentional injuries. For example, primary and secondary seatbelt laws allow police officers to enforce seatbelt use among drivers and their passengers. National-scale policies, such as the United States National Water Safety Action Plan, offer a strategic approach to unintentional injury prevention. These policies set standardized injury prevention practices to guide injury prevention efforts at the community, county, and state level and ensure a cohesive prevention response.

There are several ways rural programs can get involved in the policymaking process. Programs interested in unintentional injury prevention may consider writing about unintentional injury issues in their local paper or joining a meeting hosted by policymakers to raise awareness about unintentional injury issues in their local communities. Programs should also consider reviewing the Federal Register for policy proposals or revised policies on unintentional injury prevention. Programs can offer feedback on these policies by writing letters to policymakers.

Membership organizations such as the National Rural Health Association (NRHA) and the Safe States Alliance help keep members up-to-date on current injury prevention health policies. Membership organizations can serve as a liaison between programs and policymakers and work to ensure that policymakers are aware of rural health issues. Programs interested in unintentional injury prevention might consider joining a membership organization with similar goals and objectives to further engage in the rural health policymaking process.

Economic Incentives and Assistance

Unintentional injury prevention programs should consider partnering with local government leaders and policymakers to offer economic incentives in their communities. Economic incentives are one of the five components of community risk reduction and aim to encourage better choices and changes in behavior. For example, wood burning appliance changeout programs reduce fire-related injuries by offering discounts to families who replace their old wood burning appliances for appliances that meet requirements set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Other examples of economic incentives include:

  • Free smoke alarm installations for community members
  • Offering tax credits to businesses installing smoke alarms and other fire prevention technology
  • Free bicycle helmets
  • Free infant cribs

Communication Campaigns

Unintentional injury prevention programs may consider leveraging national or statewide communication campaigns to reduce injuries in their communities. Communication campaigns can help programs enforce existing policies by delivering educational messages that increase knowledge about risky behaviors and encourage behavior and attitude changes. For example, Click It or Ticket is a national campaign that uses education and law enforcement to encourage drivers and passengers to wear their seatbelts. There are campaign materials for community programs to implement at the local level.

Rural programs should consider using different methods and settings to deliver communication campaigns depending on the audience. For example, it may be helpful to deliver campaigns intended for youth and adolescents in schools or through social media. When using social media, programs should consider using hashtags to boost engagement and keep the audience talking about a campaign. For other audiences, door-to-door outreach may be more appropriate. Other common delivery methods for communication campaigns include television, public radio announcements, and billboards.