Car crashes are leading threat to pregnant drivers

Study shows increased risks, especially to unbelted women

Consumer Reports News: October 08, 2013 02:15 PM

Being a mother on the go isn't easy, or without risks. In fact, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of trauma to pregnant women. Plus, crashes during those nine months result in higher rates of adverse pregnancy outcomes such as preterm birth, stillbirth, and placental abruption, according to a new study by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The study looked at over 878,000 pregnant women aged 16-46 who delivered one baby in North Carolina from 2001-2008. The results found that 2.9 percent of pregnant drivers were involved in one or more crashes. After one crash there was an increased rate of adverse outcomes and a second crash saw that rate increase.

Many pregnant women worry that using a seatbelt when driving could be unsafe for their baby, but this study and previous ones debunk that myth. Two percent of women in the study were unbelted at the time of the crash and 18 percent were driving in vehicles without air bags. Stillbirth rates were three times higher in crashes where the driver did not have a seat belt on and rates of preterm birth and placental abruption (a separation) were higher in crashes with vehicles that were not equipped with air bags.

A previous study by the University of Michigan estimated that about 170,000 car crashes in the United States each year involve pregnant women and as many as 370 unborn babies die from them. The estimates indicate that there are more deaths to unborn children from car crashes than motor-vehicle crash deaths to infants under age one.

So, how can pregnant women protect themselves? If you are an expectant mother or know someone who is, here are some driving safety tips from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

  • Always wear a seat belt. Use it properly by placing the shoulder belt across your chest and away from your neck. Never place the shoulder belt behind you or under your arm. The lap belt should lie across your hips and below your belly.
  • Keep the air bag switch on. They work with seat belts to protect passengers in a crash.
  • Adjust your seat. Your breastbone should be at least 10 inches from the steering wheel or dashboard. As you continue through your pregnancy and your belly grows, move the seat as far back as possible for you to safely reach the pedals and steering wheel.
  • Install your car seat at least three weeks before your baby is due and get it checked by a certified car seat technician.

Remember, you're carrying precious cargo when pregnant. Exercise caution when driving and even reconsider if some errands or road trips are necessary.

Liza Barth

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