Driving while you're pregnant: keeping you and your baby safe
Our road Safety Authority expert highlights research and advice for mothers-to-be
The National Office for Traffic Medicine was jointly established by the Royal College of Physicians and the RSA. It is responsible for setting 'Medical Fitness to Drive guidelines' for doctors and health specialists. Another collaboration is the Mary Ward Essay Prize for Traffic Medicine. It aims to raise awareness of Traffic Medicine among medical students.
The prize is sponsored by the RSA and commemorates Mary Ward, the victim of the first fatal automobile crash in history, which many are surprised to hear happened in Birr, Co Offaly in 1869.
The annual competition, open to all medical students, was won by Luke Wallis, a 4th year student from the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland, this year. The title of his essay is 'Motor vehicle safety and pregnant women'.
In his essay Luke says that road crashes are the leading risk factor and cause of death for pregnant mothers and unborn babies worldwide. But there isn't a great deal of information about the subject in Ireland. It is well researched internationally. In the US alone is it estimated that approximately 92,000 road crashes annually involve pregnant women.
The main conclusion from many international studies is that the likelihood of mother and unborn baby surviving are dependent on the speed of the vehicle at the time of impact, the gestational age of the unborn baby and the use of seatbelts and airbags.
One study from Canada has highlighted that the crash rate for pregnant women peaks between Weeks 13 and 16. This report suggests that 'physiological changes' such as tiredness could be possible reasons for the increase in crashes at this time.
It may seem obvious but the risk to an unborn baby is greater than for the mother. A Swedish study has shown that an unborn baby is three times more likely to die in a car crash than the mother. An unborn child is simply more exposed to serious or even fatal injury in a crash whereas mum may only suffer minor injury. Even in cases where the mother suffers no harm at all, the unborn foetus is still at risk of going into pre-term labour.
Luke's essay highlights speed as the single most important factor in keeping both safe. By reducing speed you are reducing the potential severity of an impact.
Other important considerations are seating position and wearing seatbelts correctly. Ensuring there is a good distance between the pregnant mother's abdomen and the steering wheel is important. It's important to adjust the steering wheel or seat as the pregnancy progresses. Adjusting the seat to maintain a suitable distance from airbags should they deploy is also advised.
Wearing a seatbelt and how you wear it also plays a major role in protecting mum and baby. Unbelted women are almost three times more likely to experience the death of a foetus in a crash, compared to belted mothers.
While there are no seatbelt wearing rate statistics for pregnant women here, there are statistics from the North. In 2009 seatbelt usage among pregnant women there stood at 75pc. Those who didn't wear it said they found it uncomfortable and feared it would cause damage to the unborn baby. Of those who did use a seatbelt, just over 2-in-5 wore the belt incorrectly. The biggest mistake was to position the lap part of the belt across the body of the uterus.
The law requires that everyone, including pregnant women, wear a seat belt. Even if it is uncomfortable, your safety and that of your unborn baby is paramount.
The diagonal belt should be placed over the shoulder, not the neck (and never under the arm), between the breasts and around the bump. The lap portion of the belt should go across the hips, fitting comfortably beneath the bump. If available use the adjuster on the door frame until you get the right fit.