Pregnant Driving: The Stats
Having been pregnant 6 times (3 miscarried), when I do this research to write these articles the question I always ask myself is: why is pregnant driving not a topic of discussion, especially with one’s OB when they are pregnant?
Not one of my 3 doctors nor my midwife (who has since been educated since we routinely give car seat talks for her birthing classes) even mentioned the driving dangers women encounter during pregnancy.
While I can delve deep into a lot of studies and findings about possible injuries and causes of dangers of driving while pregnant, we offer much of that in our Tummy Shield report (which you can find here) and I’ve already offered tips for making driving as safe as possible for moms-to-be (which you can find here).
This article is purely to share the numbers.
The dangers of pregnant driving is certainly not a new challenge.
After all, according to former Director of the Office of Crashworthiness at NHTSA James Hofferbrth, it was known some 50-60 years ago that seat belts were not an optimal design for keeping pregnant women and their babies safe. But the design worked for most of the rest of the population and at that time pregnant women just weren’t in the car that much.
But today pregnant women are in the car much more. Many work right up until the birth of their child to utilize as much of their maternity leave after the baby is born so they are driving late into their pregnancies. The total annual miles driven by women of reproductive age increased 275% from 1969 to 1990. This represents a major increase in fetal exposure to crash risks over the last 30 years
So what are the statistics?
It is actually hard to tell exactly how many pregnancies are lost due to motor vehicle crashes. Different studies (which you can find here) estimate different numbers, anywhere from 300-5,000 fetal deaths from car crashes.
The reason it’s hard to tell is because miscarriage occurs in 10-20% of all pregnancies in the first trimester or so, only deaths to fetuses over 20 weeks gestational age are legally defined and required to be recorded.
In comparison, the low end estimate of 300-1,500 given in one study (Duma, 2005) would mean fetal death rate from motor vehicle crashes is 4 times the rate of children up to age 4 which is roughly 400 per year.
Let’s put that in a little more perspective. That’s 400 per year for a 5 year age range, which would average out to less than 100 per year for each age (infant, one-year-old, etc.). But that low estimate of 300-1,500 is for pregnancy which, in case you forgot, is a 9 month period.
However, based on the frequencies of pregnancies and crash involvement of the general population, another study shows a higher estimate of between 1,500 and 5,000 fetal losses occurring each year in the U.S. as a result of automotive crashes (Pearlman, 1997).
Depending on which estimate is more accurate, about two to 14 fetuses a day die due to injuries sustained during a car crash.
(We use the 3,000 number because it’s the average based on all the various studies we’ve read.)
A study by the University of Michigan estimates that about 170,000 car crashes in the U.S. each year involve pregnant women. On average, 2.9% of women report being hurt in a “car accident” during pregnancy. If you do the math based on an average of 4 million babies born a year, that’s 116,000 crashes where a mom-to-be is injured, at least somewhat.
It is estimated that there are at least 3,500 annual hospital visits in the U.S. for a pregnancy-related motor vehicle crash injury, yet no state or agency tracks these events on an ongoing basis. (Really all moms-to-be who experience a car crash should go to the hospital as there may be no outward symptoms of injury to mom or baby.)
The risk of adverse fetal injuries, such as placental abruption, uterine rupture, direct fetal injury, maternal death or fetal loss, in a 16 MPH frontal crash at 28 weeks gestation is 26% for belted drivers and 70% for unbelted drivers.
For those who do experience a crash this early in pregnancy and the babies must be born, it should be known that babies who are born at 22 weeks have only a 21% chance of survival and at 25 weeks have a 67% chance of survival, if they’re born in a hospital that is equipped to deal with a baby who is this premature.
All in all the numbers aren’t good. Women do so much to protect their babies-to-be while they are pregnant, are they doing all they can to give them the safest ride they can in the car too?
We want to know, are these stats appalling to you? Share your comments below.
By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004
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