When a woman is pregnant, she will likely make lifestyle changes to ensure her baby is born as healthy as possible. A mother-to-be may cut out soda and junk food, stop drinking alcohol, and try to get extra rest. But a recent study suggests women could do more to protect themselves and their developing fetus from the dangers of a car accident.
According to the study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, women have more car accidents when they are pregnant than they do in the years leading up to their pregnancy or the years following. The increased risk of accidents was concentrated during the second trimester.
The researchers followed the lives of 500,000 women who gave birth in Ontario for four years prior to delivery and one year afterward, tallying the number of car accidents serious enough to send the woman to an emergency room.
Prior to getting pregnant, the accident rate was about 177 per month or 4.5 per 1,000 annually. This remained steady through the first month of pregnancy, but then began climbing. By the fourth month, into the second trimester, there were 299 car crashes per month or 7.6 per 1,000 per year—triple the accident rate of the population as a whole.
Statistically, about one in 50 women will be involved in an auto accident while pregnant, according to the researchers.
But by the last month of pregnancy, the accident rate fell considerably, to just 2.7 per 1,000 annually. It remained low through the first year after delivery.
The researchers surmise that mothers are far more cautious in late pregnancy and after the baby is born and may drive less. But, they worry that moms-to-be aren’t exercising the same extreme caution in the mid-months of maternity.
Pregnancy doesn’t only change the way a woman looks. It changes how she feels, how she acts, and how she thinks. In the first trimester, a mom is typically feeling pretty bad, experiencing nausea sometimes throughout the day. By the second trimester, she is in the throes of “pregnancy brain” that can affect her focus and her alertness.
Lead study author Dr. Donald Redelmeier with the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences at the University of Toronto says women often worry about things like hot tubs, their diet, or flying on a plane while pregnant, but car accidents pose an even bigger risk.
But, he says, these risks are not enough reason for a woman to give up driving. Even while pregnant, a woman’s risk of a car crash is lower than men of the same age group.
Redelmeier says the research should serve as a warning to women that they need to take extra precautions throughout pregnancy, not only in the final months.
- Reduce speed
- Avoid distractions
- Obey traffic signals
- Pregnant passengers should move the front seat as far back as possible, or sit in the back seat
- Always wear a seatbelt to protect the expecting mother and child.
Many women worry a seatbelt could harm their unborn baby in the event of a car accident. This is untrue. A seatbelt offers far more protection than risks and should always be worn.
The NTSB says pregnant women should also adjust their seat throughout pregnancy, sitting as far back from the steering wheel as possible and allowing for at least 10 inches between the steering wheel and their breastbones.