Legislative and regulatory strategies to reduce childhood unintentional injuries

Future Child. Spring-Summer 2000;10(1):111-36.


Laws and regulations are among the most effective mechanisms for getting large segments of the population to adopt safety behaviors. These have been applied at both the state and federal levels for diverse injury issues. Certain legal actions are taken to prevent the occurrence of an otherwise injury-producing event, while other legal actions are designed to prevent injury once an event has occurred. At the federal level, effective laws and regulations have been directed at dangers posed by unsafe manufactured products or motor vehicle design. At the state level, effective safety laws and regulations have been directed at encouraging safety behaviors and regulating the use of motor vehicles or other forms of transportation. In this article, six legislative efforts are described to point out pros and cons of the legislative approach to promoting safety. Three such efforts are aimed at preventing injury-producing events from occurring: mandating child-resistant packaging for prescription drugs and other hazardous substances, regulating tap water temperature by presetting a safe hot-water heater temperature at the factory, and graduated licensing. Three other examples illustrate the value and complexities of laws designed to prevent injuries once an injury-producing event does occur: mandatory bicycle helmet use, sleep-wear standards, and child safety seat use. This article concludes with specific recommendations, which include assessing the value of laws and regulations, preventing the rescission of laws and regulations known to work, refining existing laws to eliminate gaps in coverage, developing regulations to adapt to changing technology, exploring new legal means to encourage safe behavior, and increasing funding for basic and applied research and community programs. Further reductions in childhood injury rates will require that leaders working in the field of injury prevention together provide the creativity to devise new safety devices and programs, incentives to persuade the public to adopt a "culture of safety" as a social norm, training and education to develop new leaders and workers, and the political will to challenge the status quo and engage the public interest.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Consumer Product Safety / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Health Promotion / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Safety / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • United States
  • Wounds and Injuries / etiology
  • Wounds and Injuries / prevention & control*