We find more and more choices in pregnancy seatbelt positioner devices available all the time.
This is good in a sense because it means more people are realizing there is an issue to address in driving during pregnancy. The trouble is, as there are not yet any federal standards, many of these products actually may add to the safety problem rather than help solve it.
Driving during pregnancy, what is the Issue?
The issue is the increased risk of injury to both mother and baby in the event of a crash during pregnancy. There is also a common complaint that the seat belt is uncomfortable and this drives many women to not wear the seat belt at all during their pregnancy. This, of course, increases the risk of injury even more.
More than 170,000 pregnant women are involved in car accidents every year, resulting in thousands of lost pregnancies (Klinich et al, 2008). Engineers did not design or test the existing seat belt system in the vehicle to protect women who are in a vehicle while expecting. In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s old website (see screen shot below), the current restraining device exposes an inherent risk for injury, or even death, to a fetus.
“The fact is that it is not possible to position the lap belt in a way that would prevent crushing the fetus in a frontal crash. Clearly lap and shoulder belts alone are not appropriate for use by pregnant women,” said Jim Hofferbirth, former director of the Office of Crashworthiness at NHTSA.
Types of Pregnancy Seatbelt positioners
Some pregnancy seatbelt positioners are designed only for added comfort while driving. While others say they are designed to help protect the baby in a crash. One one is actually designed and engineered for increased safety.
There are three main styles that we’ve found:
- Positioners that use some sort of soft material intended to keep the lap belt “low/under on the belly”
- Positioners that use some sort of hook to create an anchor point between the legs, removing the lap belt from the pregnancy area all together.
- A third less common style is the pillow or cushion that goes between the seat belt and the baby bump.
What to Look for in a Pregnancy Seatbelt positioner
This is what you want to look at when contemplating which pregnancy seat belt positioning device to purchase.
Remember this rule of thumb equation. Weight x speed = force needed. This means if you are 150 pounds and in a 30 mph crash, your restraint needs to be able to withhold 4,500 lbs of force. One product shared on its Amazon page, that it could withstand about 250 pounds of force. That means, that device will break in a crash.
1. First you want to look at the materials used in the pregnancy seat positioner.
- Is it a sturdy construction that will withstand the high amount of force created in a crash?
- Are the materials strong enough that they won’t rip or break during a crash? As Carrie, a moderator for Car-Seat.org Facebook page, says, “The concern with the plastic ones is that they add a ton of slack to the belt. When they break in a crash (and it’s a “when”, not “if”, in the vast majority of cases), it will lead to terribly tragic outcomes.”
2. Look at the design to see if there will be excess slack in the seat belt should the device fail or compress.
- If the lap belt is still crossing your belly, is there cushioning that goes between you and the lap belt? Car seat technicians do not recommend children using thick coats in car seats because the padding will compress during a crash and the harness straps will likely be too loose. For the same reason, you want to make sure the positioner you choose does not have padding between you and the seat belt that will compress during the crash allowing you to move farther forward before the seat belt stops you
- If the lap belt has an anchor between the legs, is the anchor close to your body? If it is too forward of your body, your body has to travel forward before the seat belt engages your body and stops you. This movement increases the energy with which you ultimately impact the seat belt. See in the pictures below how the anchor on the Tummy Shield is super close to the crotch. Whereas in the other product the anchor is 6 or 7 inches forward of the crotch. A common motion for a passenger in a crash is to move down and under the seat belt. This is known as submarining. With the other product the passenger will slide forward about 6 inches before contacting and being restrained by the seat belt. While sliding down to make contact with the lap portion, the shoulder belt will no longer be in proper position either. This can have a very bad outcome in a crash.
3. You want to research whether or not it was crash tested.
- Do the crash tests verify that the seatbelt still works as intended to hold the occupant in the vehicle while using the positioner?
- Do strength/crash tests verify the construction is sturdy and able to withstand the crash forces?
How to spot a knockoff
Just like there are more and more counterfeit or knockoff car seats being sold online, there are more and more untested, unsafe pregnancy seat belt positioners available. However, unlike car seats which have federal standards so it’s illegal to sell counterfeit car seats. There are no federal standards for pregnancy seat belt positioners so it’s not illegal to sell unsafe knockoffs.
In addition to looking at the materials used and quality of the product. (Will it break in a crash?) There are a few other indicators that tell you perhaps it may not be a safe product:
- Price is usually a good indicator. If it’s really inexpensive (or kind of expensive with 50% off), it’s probably not safe. Tummy Shield is expensive to make because of the materials used and crash testing was expensive to complete.
- Look at the language in the description and on the packaging. Oftentimes these knockoffs are from other countries (ahmm, China). The packaging is in Chinese or if it is in English, it just sounds… off.
- Look at the contact information. In the US, law requires ecommerce sites to have contact information (address and phone number) on every page. (You can see our address in our footer at the bottom of every page.) Many of the sites selling these have no contact information that I can find or emails that do not exist such as in this example. Ever look at “email.com”? Not an actual domain. Not an actual email address.
What is scary — and aggravating — to us is some of these companies mislead customers by taking copyrighted verbiage, images and video from our website to imply they tested their product. When we can’t find contact information to ask them to remove these copyright infringements, we report them. However, there seems to be a new one popping up every few days.
Why Tummy Shield is the Safest Choice
Tummy Shield is one of the devices that creates an anchor point between the legs. It redirects the lap belt completely away from the pregnant belly.
- The Tummy Shield looks like a nice soft pad. But inside that pad is a heavy-duty single-piece stainless steel plate and anchor. A strap that wraps the vehicle seat and connects to the stainless steel plate to hold it in place. The manufacturer strength tested the Tummy Shield to ensure crash forces will not break it. It is at least as strong as the seat belt itself.
- The manufacturer crash tested Tummy Shield in Australia. We had a U.S. lab run additional crash tests. The tests show the seat belt still performs to federal standards (FMVSS 209 and AU standards) while using the Tummy Shield.
- The anchor on the Tummy Shield should be positioned right at the pregnant woman’s crotch per the instructions. Some other hook positioners sit at the front of the vehicle seat so there are inches to move forward before even contacting the seat belt (assuming the other devices’ hook construction stays intact).
There are no federal regulations yet for pregnancy seat belt adjusters. Put your baby’s safety in a product that has gone above and beyond to prove its performance in a crash.
Tummy Shield is the number one choice by prenatal care providers and safety experts, it’s the ONLY seat belt for pregnant moms that actually protects unborn baby in the event of a crash, is comfortable for moms-to-be, and is easy to use and transfer from seat to seat.
When it comes to safety, you get what you pay for.
By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004
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