Pregnancy is an exciting time. A nerve-racking time. A time for a lot of joy and planning. A time for worry and questions.
A common question pregnant women ask themselves, if not others, is whether or not the seat belt is really safe to use during pregnancy.
Surprisingly seat belt safety during pregnancy is not a topic commonly discussed between doctors and their patients. A 2007 study revealed only 48.7% of health care providers talk about driving and seat belt use with their pregnant patients (Weiss et al, 2007). This is unfortunate considering the U.S. National Library of Medicine says, “Automobile crashes are the largest single cause of death for pregnant women and the leading cause of traumatic fetal injury mortality in the United States.”
A quick search online will inform you that the seat belt is safe to use, if you wear it correctly. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration describes correct use as having the lap portion under the pregnancy and the shoulder portion across midchest/midshoulder.
Specifically NHTSA’s website (prior to a redesign) used to say, “The lap belt should be positioned low on the abdomen, below the fetus, with the shoulder belt worn normally.”
However, the administration went on to say, “When crashes occur, the fetus can be injured by striking the lower rim of the steering wheel or from crash forces concentrated in the area were a seat belt crosses the mother’s abdomen.”
5 Facts Every Pregnant Women Should Know
1. A 2008 study by the University of Michigan estimates about 170,000 car crashes in the U.S. each year involve pregnant women. On average, 2.9% of women report being injured in a car crash during pregnancy. (Klinich et al, 2008) Based on an average of 4 million babies born a year, there are 116,000 crashes where a mom-to-be is injured, at least somewhat.
2. Based on an average from several studies 3,000 pregnancies are estimated to be lost every year because of car crashes. This is an average of estimates from the 24 driving during pregnancy studies, with a low of 370 and a high estimate of 5,000.
3. Risk of the baby dying during pregnancy because of a crash is 5.04 times the risk compared to the first 9 months of a baby’s life. This number is based only on the 227 pregnant mothers and babies who died compared to the 60 newborns who died in traffic crashes in 2012. The risk ratio is thought to be underestimated because “the risk of crashing is increased during pregnancy, and [the researchers] have ignored the many cases in which the mother survives but the fetus does not,” the researchers explained. (Evans, Redelmeier, 2015)
4. Comparatively speaking pregnancy loss from a car crash is a greater issue than:
- Children who die in hot car deaths (about 32 a year)
- Children who die in a home fire (about 365 a year)
- Children who die drowning (about 600 a year)
- Children who die in a car crash spread amongst ages 0 to 12 (about 650 a year)
5. These numbers are just looking at the number of pregnancies lost in a car crash and do not account for the other possible adverse outcomes like disabilities resulting from in-utero injuries, complications from emergency delivery and head trauma — the most common direct fetal injury. Fetal demise can occur even if the mother has no visible injuries. (Friese; Wojciehoski, 2005)
Amie Durocher has been a certified CPS Technician since 2004. She is the Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids, a company that offers up-to-date car safety information and innovative products, like the Tummy Shield, to help parents keep their precious little ones safe.
1. Weiss, HB; Sirin, Hulya; Sauber-Schatz, Erin K.; Dunning, Kari; “Seat Belt use, Counseling and Motor-Vehicle Injury During Pregnancy: Results from a Multi-State Population-Based Survey.” Maternal and Child Health Journal. Volume 11 (2007): p505-510.
2. Klinich PhD, Kathleen DeSantis; Flannagan PhD, Carol A. C.; Rupp PhD, Jonathan D.; Sochor MD, Mark; Schneider PhD, Lawrence W.; Pearlman MD, Mark D.; “Fetal Outcome in Motor-Vehicle Crashes: Effects of Crash Characteristics and Maternal Restraint.” American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. Volume 198, Issue 4 (April 2008): p450.e1–450.e9.
3. Evans L, Redelmeier DA. “Traffic Deaths Before and After Birth.” European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology volume 194, (November 2015): p258-259.
4. Friese, Greg; Wojciehoski, Randal F.; “Fetal Trauma from Motor Vehicle Collisions .” EMS World. (July 1, 2005)