Pregnancy and Seatbelts

Many pregnant women are concerned about the safety of driving while pregnant especially in regard to the effects of wearing seatbelts and the deployment of airbags.

The studies we have reviewed all agree that wearing a seat belt when driving during pregnancy is certainly safer, by three times as much. For instance a study in 2013 that appeared in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology showed an increase of fetal deaths from car crashes from 3.5% to 25% in women who wore seat belts to women who chose not to. However it also showed that a majority of women they reviewed did wear their seat belt, 86 did while 12 did not.

The study also looked at the outcome of the airbag deployment. They found that the airbag was deployed in 17 of the accidents they reviewed and in those cases the mother was more likely to experience placental abruption, where the placenta separates from the uterus which can be lethal for the fetus and the mother.

The researchers urged that this is more an indication of the severity of the crash. In other words, the crash was severe enough to cause the deployment of the airbag and not necessarily that the airbag caused the placental abruption.

Other studies demonstrate that the first restraint a pregnancy “hits” is the seat belt, and the seat belt also has been shown to potentially cause placental abruption. This also would be an indication of the severity of the crash.

So we know that crash severity is a major influencer in potential injuries to mom and baby when driving while pregnant. But we also see in the fact that the study reviewed 126 cases where the expecting mom was hospitalized because of a crash of which only 17 were severe enough to cause airbag deployment. This means that even a minor crash can cause injury and pregnancy loss.

It’s definitely a good idea to wear the seat belt and keep the airbag armed for safe driving during pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that seat belts should be worn at all times, and the lap belt should be fitted low across the hip bones, below the belly.

But what is making women, even if it’s a small percentage, not wear their seatbelt during pregnancy?

Studies by NHTSA show that there is a general increase of seat belt usage among all adults. If that is the case would these pregnant women otherwise wear their seat belt? And are choosing not to during pregnancy because….what? They are truly worried about the consequences? They find it too uncomfortable? They read that the seat belt is supposed to be placed “below” the belly but when they sit there is no “below” the belly so they don’t know what to do?

There are pregnancy seat belt adjusters on the market to help moms-to-be reposition the seat belt lower or position a pillow between the seat belt and belly. These are meant to increase the comfort for the pregnant women. But do they hold up in a crash? Or do they introduce unsafe slack in the seat belt in the event of a crash?

There is the one maternity seat belt positioner, the Tummy Shield™, which has been crash tested to make sure it withstands even high speed crashes without releasing to introduce slack in the seat belt and to make sure it is at least as strong as the seat belt itself. It completely redirects the seat belt away from the pregnancy, creating a leg harness on the upper thighs.


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