Vehicle Safety for Pregnant Women
We Can Help You Understand How Seatbelts and Other Safety Features Work for Pregnant Women
Protecting the health and safety of her baby is the goal of any expectant mother. Despite decades of progress in improving automobile safety, injuries sustained from vehicle accidents remain one of the most serious threats to a mother and her unborn child. While this issue needs more public attention and scientific study, you can also educate yourself so you can make the right choices. The Gilbert Law Group® has gathered some essential information regarding auto safety for pregnant people.
Pregnant Women Should Always Wear a Seatbelt
All pregnant women are required by law to wear seatbelts, and the practice can help keep you and your child safe in case of an accident. Though some myths say otherwise, a seatbelt will not harm your fetus—but being unrestrained in a crash could. The best way to protect a fetus and increase its odds of survival during an accident is to protect the life and health of the mother. This means always putting on your seatbelt, whether you’re the driver or a passenger.
Myth Busted: Seatbelts ARE Safe for Expectant Mothers
While it may be uncomfortable for pregnant women to wear seatbelts, particularly in their second or third trimester, buckling up every time you get in the car is essential to protect yourself and your baby. No matter where you are in a vehicle, proper restraints can keep you from colliding with other parts of the interior or being ejected in an accident.
Despite significant efforts to increase public awareness regarding proper safety restraint use by expectant mothers, auto accidents are the leading cause of death for pregnant women, with higher fatality rates than complications during childbirth.
The Facts: Being Unbelted in an Accident Makes a Woman 3 Times More Likely to Suffer Neonatal Complications
A landmark 2008 study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology examining fetal outcomes in motor vehicle accidents confirmed the importance of protecting the mother through universal seatbelt use. The severity of a mother’s injury was the strongest indicator of whether her child was likely to survive. The study’s authors found three-point seatbelts (meaning, both a shoulder and a lap belt) work best to protect the health of a pregnant woman.
The study also revealed that 80% of unbelted pregnant women experienced adverse fetal outcomes, including the death of their unborn baby or other serious neonatal health complications. Another study by the Intermountain Injury Control Research Center found that women who do not wear a seatbelt are 3 times more likely to lose the fetus and 2 times more likely to experience severe internal bleeding.
Read the Statistics on Car Accidents and Pregnant Women
Even if you and your family drive safely, it’s good to be prepared for a car accident, because other drivers’ negligence cannot be predicted. Here is what we know about car accidents involving pregnant women.
- Pregnant women are involved in more than 170,000 motor vehicle crashes each year
- Approximately 800-3,200 unborn babies die each year in car crashes, which is more than the number lost in car seat incidents or bicycling accidents among small children. In fact, car accidents are the leading cause of traumatic death for fetuses.
- According to existing medical literature, fetal deaths occur in approximately 1-2% of minor crashes and 30-50% of severe crashes.
- Unbelted women suffer approximately 62% of all fetal losses in vehicle crashes.
How Do Accidents Endanger Unborn Babies?
Placental abruption (placenta abruptio) is the leading cause of death for fetuses involved in car crashes. Placental abruption is the separation of the placenta from its attachment to the uterus wall before the baby is delivered, which causes the fetus to be starved of oxygen and nutrients. Accident forces can cause the placenta to come loose prematurely.
Symptoms of placental abruption can include:
- Abdominal pain
- Back pain
- Uterine contractions with little or no pause in between
- Vaginal bleeding.
In 40-50% of all cases, fetal distress occurs soon after the abruption takes place. It is imperative for an expectant mother to seek immediate medical attention if she is displaying symptoms consistent with abruption.
According to the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, complications from placental abruption following a car crash may include premature delivery, low birth weight, neonatal respiratory distress, or other serious conditions that may lead to serious and long-term health challenges for the child.
What You Can Do: Always Seek Medical Advice After an Accident
This is the advice we give to all car accident victims because injuries are not always immediately apparent. Especially if you are pregnant, it’s important to seek immediate medical attention after a crash. This is the case even when you do not think you were injured. The sooner your doctor catches any potential complications or injuries to the fetus, the more they may be able to do to keep you and your baby safe.
Tips for Safe Vehicle Travel as a Pregnant Women
While an estimated 80% of pregnant women wear seatbelts, proper seatbelt use by 100% of this cohort would save approximately 200 unborn babies per year and prevent hundreds of other fetuses from pre-delivery distress or injury. Here are some other tips to help you travel safely if you’re expecting.
Where in a Vehicle Should a Pregnant Woman Sit?
The best place for pregnant women to sit if they are not driving is in the back seat. Crash forces are typically most severe in the front of the vehicle.
How Should an Expectant Mother Position Herself if She Is Driving?
According to Stefan Duma, a biomechanical engineer who studies fetal loss in car accidents, the biggest threat to the safety of the fetus is the steering wheel. The closer a woman is to the steering wheel, the greater the risk.
Adjust the seat to be as far away from the steering column as you can without impairing your ability to drive. Some newer vehicles have the capacity to electronically adjust the height of the brake and gas pedal, which can help you sit further back. Review your vehicle owner’s manual for this information. If necessary, purchase foot pedal extenders, which can provide up to an additional 3 inches of space away from the steering wheel. At a minimum, the breastbone should be at least 10 inches from the steering wheel or dashboard.
Should I Turn the Airbags Off if I Am Pregnant?
No. A 2008 American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology study found that airbags do not worsen fetal outcomes in vehicle collisions. The evidence suggests accident outcomes are very similar when pregnant women use both a 3-point seatbelt and airbag versus only a three-point seatbelt restraint.
What Is the Proper Way for a Pregnant Woman to Wear a Seatbelt?
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, lap belts should be placed low over the pelvis and snugly under the abdomen. Shoulder belts should be positioned diagonally across the chest and the shoulder belt should fit between the breasts. Place the shoulder belt to the side of your belly, particularly later in the pregnancy.
Women should never place the shoulder strap behind the body or sit on the lap belt. The shoulder belt helps keep the pressure of the collision forces away from the fetus in the belly region. Not using a seatbelt as directed will negate its effectiveness and increase the risk of serious injury to you and your fetus in an accident.
What Should a Pregnant Woman Do After an Accident?
If you are involved in any kind of car accident while pregnant, you should seek immediate medical attention to ensure your health and well-being and that of the fetus. This is true regardless of the severity of the collision. Especially when your baby’s life may be at stake, it’s reasonable to be over-cautious.
Call The Gilbert Law Group® at (888) 711-5947 if you have questions about a motor vehicle accident that caused injury to you or your unborn baby. Our experienced litigators are here to fight for you.
Additional information and resources on this topic include:
- “Fetal outcome in motor-vehicle crashes: effects of crash characteristics and maternal restraint,” American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, April 2008.
- “Protecting Pregnant Women in Car Accidents,” New York Times, December 4, 2009.
- “If You’re Pregnant: Seat Belt Recommendations for Drivers and Passengers,” the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
- “Seatbelts during pregnancy,” March of Dimes, August 2014.
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Whether caused by a defective part or another party’s negligence, car accidents often give injury victims the chance to file for compensation. Especially if your baby’s health and future are on the line, it’s important to make sure you receive a fair settlement. Our attorneys are skilled at negotiating and litigating motor vehicle accidents of all types and would be honored to serve you.
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