I was pregnant 6 times – though, 3 miscarried. When I do the research to write these articles I always ask myself this question: Why is pregnant driving not a more common topic of discussion? Why do OBs not talk about driving with their pregnant patients?
Not one of my three doctors or midwife even mentioned the driving dangers women encounter during pregnancy. We educated our midwife since then and we routinely give car seat talks for her birthing classes.
I can delve deep into a lot of studies and findings about possible injuries and causes of dangers of driving while pregnant. But we offer much of that in our Tummy Shield report. I offer tips for making driving as safe as possible for moms-to-be.
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. The government was just trying to convince people to use seat belts back then. And 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 to utilize as much of their maternity leave after baby is born. Pregnant 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 on driving and pregnancy estimate different numbers, anywhere from 300-5,000 fetal deaths from car crashes. (See our pregnant driving statistics infographic here.)
The reason it’s hard to tell is because miscarriage occurs in 10-20% of all pregnancies in the first trimester. So only deaths to fetuses over 20 weeks gestational age are legally defined and required to be recorded. This is an important distinction to remember.
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. This 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 an estimated 3,000 because it’s the average based on all the various studies we’ve read.)
How many pregnant women experience crashes?
A 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 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.
Get your guide about safer driving practices for during pregnancy
It is estimated there are at least 3,500 annual hospital visits in the U.S. for a pregnancy-related car 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. 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.
Women who experience a crash this early in pregnancy, if the babies must be born, babies who are born at 22 weeks have only a 21% chance of survival. At 25 weeks babies have a 67% chance of survival, if they are born in a hospital that is equipped to deal with a baby who is this premature.
Pregnant driving: a Higher risk
A 2015 study by researchers Evans and Redelmeier shows the risk of fetal death from traffic crash is 5 times the risk compared to the first 9 months of a baby’s life. The study says this risk ration is based only on the 227 incidences in which both the pregnant mother and unborn baby died compared to the 60 newborns who died in traffic crashes in 2012. (IIHS reports show the number of infants younger than 1 year old that died in car crashes in 2019 was 53.)
“This ratio likely underestimates the disparity because the risk of crashing is increased during pregnancy, and we have ignored the many cases in which the mother survives but the fetus does not,” said the researchers. “Traffic safety is an established part of pediatric care and the low rates of motor vehicle traffic fatalities during infancy indicate that such efforts are effective. The current data highlight that such prevention needs to start even earlier as a part of standard prenatal care. Specifically, physicians should advise pregnant women on the even greater importance of road safety before the baby is born.”
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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We originally published this post November 2014. We updated the post for accuracy and comprehensiveness.