According to a Reader’s Digest special report released in July, approximately 5,000 teenagers die in car crashes every year, while the University of Michigan Health System finds that each year more than 600 children who are under the age of 5 are killed in vehicle crashes. Researchers have also estimated that hundreds of unborn children also die in car crashes every year.
According to Susan Winlaw, co-author of Car Advice for Women (and Smart Men), the first decision a pregnant woman should consider is the necessity of being in a vehicle at all, and if the answer is “yes,” then Winlaw says further safety concerns should be considered.
Since the risk to the unborn child in a car is almost completely avoidable, it might mean the mother cutting back on her personal mobility as a safety measure.
Winlaw points out that an unborn baby is usually in more danger in a car than a young child is:
The young child’s in the rear, often facing backwards and well away from most of the danger of something intruding into the car. But the unborn baby’s sitting inches from the steering wheel and airbag, or maybe a couple of feet from the passenger side dash, and always right next to a door where a car or something else can punch through.
Winlaw goes on to say you don’t even need to be in a crash to hurt an unborn baby, since the gravitational forces of events like an abrupt stop or severe slide can damage the placenta:
It’s the same principle that causes doctors to tell pregnant women not to ride roller-coasters.
Winlaw says that when she and co-author Alex Law researched Car Advice for Women, they discovered quite a few safety and security items of concern to women that weren’t getting much public exposure or were being misrepresented, but the danger to unborn children is perhaps the most compelling safety issue of all.
So, how can pregnant women protect their unborn baby and themselves while in a vehicle? The authors offer the following suggestions to keeping mom and baby safe behind the wheel:
1. Find someone else to drive.
Winlaw says finding someone else to drive allows pregnant women to sit away from the steering wheel. She goes on to say the middle of a vehicle is the safest place to be, since it provides the person with more of a buffer zone from anything that hits the car, as well as from the hard points of the car itself.
2. Choose a larger vehicle.
Since crash-testing agencies and insurance records remind us that vehicle size and weight have a lot to do with passenger safety, smaller vehicles are more dangerous.
3. Drive slow and always adhere to speed limits.
Wherever you’re going in the car, Winlaw suggests choosing the route with the slowest speeds, since velocity is often the thing that turns the results of a crash from injuries to deaths. She also advises driving routes without dangerous spots and curves and to note weather patterns which may provoke slides or spin-outs.
4. Always wear a seat belt.
According to Winlaw, pregnant women should put the waist belt under the belly and the shoulder belt to one side of the belly, but between the breasts and over the middle of the collarbone. Click here to visit the University of Michigan Health System website to view a short video of pregnancy and seat belt use.
For more information on this and other safety issues, Winlaw’s book, Car Advice for Women (and Smart Men) is available at CarAdviceForWomen.com.