Driving in Pregnancy: What’s Being Done
Many universities have been studying driving in pregnancy over the years. Ever wonder why?
As a parent-to-be you know once that baby is born, you can’t drive anywhere without safely buckling in your baby into the car seat. And of course you will because you love your baby and want to protect your baby no matter what.
But what about now? Are you keeping your baby safe in the car while you are driving in pregnancy?
Did you know that the baby growing in the womb of a pregnant woman has been shown to be at least five times the risk of a 0 to 1-year-old infant in the same car using standard, mandated child restraint systems?
You are required by law to protect your infant, buckling her into properly installed a rear-facing child restraint. Are you required by love to protect the baby in your womb?
We’ve already shared how states are not required to track fetal deaths when reporting accident data in our Pregnant Driving: The Stats post, where we also share with you why we use the average estimate of 3,000 pregnancies that are lost every year in car accidents. The car accident fatality rate for unborn babies is about four times the rate for infants and children from birth to age 4.
In 2009 the New York Times reported that car safety experts at Virginia Tech University, funded in part by Ford Motor Company, were trying to develop a computerized crash test model to determine how best to protect pregnant women and their unborn children during a collision.
What is the most common risk for women driving in pregnancy?
Stefan Duma, Virginia Tech’s head of biomechanical engineering, said the biggest risk with a pregnant occupant is placenta uterine attachment. “That’s a delicate attachment, and it doesn’t take a lot of force to detach that. If it gets detached, the baby loses oxygen,” he explained.
Placenta abruptia accounts for about 80 percent unborn babies lost after a car accident.
Duma said the biggest problem is the steering wheel. The larger the belly, the closer the steering wheel and the steering wheel hits the abdomen.
But knowing crash dynamics, and after reading reports from expecting moms who experienced car crashes, we question whether women’s pregnancies aren’t first “struck” by the seat belt locking and engaging the hip bones (like they are designed to do) thereby compressing into the pregnancy. It is the seat belt that is designed to keep people in their seat and from hitting the steering wheel or dashboard.
We at Safe Ride 4 Kids always recommend expecting moms wear the seat belt. It is three times safer to wear one than not wear one. However, many pregnant woman feel the seat belt is uncomfortable so they adjust it to an improper position or not wear it at all. Sometimes they just can’t get it stay where the seat belt is supposed to be on your pregnancy.
Research and Experience
Five years ago the engineers at Virginia Tech were working on creating a detailed computer model that would help them determine the level of energy that could cause injury to the expecting mom and damage to the unborn baby. They were questioning: how much force, what position, what direction, how much compression of the abdomen will cause placental disruption?
The creator of the Tummy Shield, an engineer in Australia, found in his personal experience it doesn’t take much force at all to cause a fetal injury. While his wife did not experience a placental abruption, she did experience bruising to her abdomen from the seat belt in a sudden braking (not even an actual crash) and the baby was born with a brain injury which doctors later determined was because of that incident.
Twenty years later, they are still taking care of their daughter with her residual myriad challenges from that injury.
What change needs to happen?
Duma told the New York Times it would be years before their research was translated into new safety features in cars. The design cycle for vehicles is about three years.
“What is the perfect belt for a pregnant occupant? It’s a a difficult solution, but it’s something we need to work toward,” Duma said.
He recognized there are maternity seat belt devices available. But researchers didn’t have a good tool to evaluate the effectiveness of them at the time. And they were not recommended by auto manufacturers.
We are pursuing evaluation of the Parent Tested Parent Approved award winning Tummy Shield from universities studying the safety of driving while pregnant as well as auto manufacturers as we believe the technology is an effective step in the right direction.
The Tummy Shield was crash tested by the manufacturer to the Australian, U.S. and EU seat belt standards. These are the most relevant standards to which it can be tested. These crash tests show the Tummy Shield restrains the occupant at least as well as the seat belt itself but without the seat belt crossing the low abdomen. Tummy Shield was even put under further testing. The manufacturer also tested the Tummy Shield at higher speeds than typical crash tests and used the higher-weighted male crash test dummy.
We listed numerous tips for driving while pregnant for expecting women to follow to best protect themselves in the car, in addition to using a Tummy Shield.
Why is there a focus on studying safety of driving in pregnancy?
About 37,000 people die annually in collisions. The number of pregnancies lost is only about 10% of that number. But it is roughly 400% the number of children dying in car crashes. This is a big concern in the U.S.
Duma explains the focus further. He said, “And when you look at the 40,000 crash deaths, a lot of those are the fault of the person — they weren’t wearing a seat belt, or they were drinking and driving. But if you are pregnant and get into a crash, there’s little you can do to protect your fetus.”
What are your thoughts? Share your comments below.
By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004
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We originally published this post in March 2015. We updated the article for accuracy and comprehensiveness.