Car safety for pregnant drivers

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In modern society, mothers-to-be can’t simply stay at home and wait around for nine months. It is important for pregnant road users to know that unless they suffer from a special condition, they can continue to live their normal lives without too many changes. As long they can comfortably get in and sit in their car, they can drive throughout their pregnancy.

It is, however, wise for pregnant women to avoid driving in conditions that might increase stress, such as driving in bad weather conditions such as rain, wind or icy weather. Driving at night can also be stressful, as your sight may be diminished and, in many cases, your body is growing tired. We address some of the concerns of pregnant road users and suggest how mothers-to-be can maintain the mobility that they have become used to.

“Even in a minor accident where injuries are not as severe, you still have a 5% chance of losing your baby if unrestrained.”

Pregnancy and medical advice

  • It is important to listen to the advice of your doctor during pregnancy. Most will tell you it’s ok to travel during pregnancy, but each individual case is different.
  • Your doctor, midwife or consultant can advise you if you have any conditions which make long journeys or any other travel inadvisable.
  • Fatigue, morning sickness and the increased chance of miscarriage during the early weeks can make long journeys very uncomfortable.
  • If you have a condition affecting your heart, blood or are at risk of pre-term labour, consult with your doctor before planning to travel at stage of pregnancy.
  • If you planned a trip before you knew you were expecting, discuss with your doctor the date you are booked to go, how long you will be away, what modes of transport you plan to use, and whether or not you need any vaccinations.
  • It is not advisable to travel distances the closer you get to your due date.
  • Do not drive if you suffer from motion sickness or even serious toxicosis (any smells, especially chemical ones). During the trip you may experience petrol vapour and exhaust fumes acutely, which can cause headaches, giddiness and even fainting.
  • Don’t drive yourself to hospital when you are in labour. Advise your midwife of this in advance, and if your moment comes, call for an ambulance.

Different stages of pregnancy and driving

It is always best to discuss this with your doctor, but we suggest the following:

  • Travel during pregnancy can be tiring and frustrating but if your pregnancy is normal, you should be able to travel during the first and second trimesters without too many adjustments.
  • Remember that you are pregnant when you plan a trip; be sensible in your planning and take it easy.
  • Between 14 and 28 weeks, you might feel better and be more confident about your pregnancy and plans to travel.
  • If you’re experiencing difficulties such as bleeding or cramping, don’t travel.
  • Problems with swelling, travelling, sitting in a car or doing a lot of walking may be uncomfortable.
  • If your pregnancy is considered high risk, a long trip during pregnancy is just not a good idea.
  • Consult your physician if you need to travel during your third trimester.
  • If you haven’t had any problems with your pregnancy and there are no medical reasons (such as dizziness) which might have made your doctor advise against driving, then it is up to you and how you feel.
  • In the third trimester, labour could begin at any time; your water could break or other problems could occur. Your doctor’s knowledge and records of what has happened during your pregnancy are important.
  • If you check into a hospital in a strange place, they don’t know you and you don’t know them. Some doctors won’t accept you as a patient in this situation, so it is not worth taking a chance.
  • By the time you reach the later stages of your pregnancy, your growing bump may pose a bit of a problem. It may be very close to the steering wheel, which will cause discomfort.
  • Get your partner to drive instead and enjoy being driven around!

Wearing of a seatbelt while pregnant

  • Many pregnant women complain that safety belts create additional discomfort and are confused about wearing seat belts and shoulder harnesses during pregnancy. Restraints are just as necessary as they are when you’re not pregnant!
  • There is no evidence that use of safety restraints increases the chance of foetal or uterine injury.
  • Wearing a seatbelt reduces the injury risk to your unborn baby by up to 70%, and you have a better chance of survival.
  • Safety belts won’t harm to your baby, which is surrounded by amniotic fluid to protect them from blows to the abdomen.
  • It is illegal not to wear a seat belt unless you have a current certificate signed by a medical practitioner exempting you for medical reasons.

What does research about pregnant driving tell us?

  • In the event of an accident, research shows that unbelted pregnant women are more than three times likely to lose their baby, and two times as likely to have excessive maternal bleeding.
  • Even in a minor accident where injuries are not as severe, you still have a 5% chance of losing your baby if unrestrained.
  • There are medical complications that can occur to the mother as well as the baby.
  • Researchers have also found that a mother’s uterus and bladder are not as protected by the pelvis after 12 weeks gestation and can be more easily injured by blunt trauma.

How to wear the seatbelt during pregnancy

  • Learn how to place the seat belt in the correct position. The lap belt of the restraint must go under your abdomen and across your upper thighs so it’s snug and comfortable.
  • The lap belt should never be placed on or above your belly.
  • Research done by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents found that rapid deceleration in a crash caused injuries to the unborn baby when a pregnant woman was only wearing a lap belt.
  • The shoulder belt should cross over your collar bone and lay between your breasts. It should be positioned so that it does not cut into your neck.
  • Never put the shoulder belt behind your back or under your arm.
  • When travelling in cars fitted with air bags, the front seat (whether it be the driving seat or the passenger seat) should be pushed back as far as practical.
  • The belt should be worn as tightly as possible so that your body can absorb the forces of any sudden impact.

Also read:

Don’t have your family vacation end in tragedy
What to know when flying with a baby bump