19 Sep Driving Safety Tips by Stage of Pregnancy
Guest post by Sean M. Cleary
Car accidents are the predominant causes of reported trauma during pregnancy. This type of trauma is a significant cause for maternal deaths, fetal and neonatal fatalities.
Driving yourself around is a way of life for many women. You rely on your car to carry out day-to-day tasks such as shopping or dropping the kids at school. As a mom-to-be, it’s not often easy, desirable or even safer to leave driving behind for a full nine months. For instance, getting around by train or bus can mean unpleasant tummy bumps.
And delegating your driving to someone else can be more dangerous than driving yourself: adult men drivers account for high crash rates and often engage in risky driving practices. (Safe Ride 4 Kids note: We actually do recommend being a passenger when possible for two reasons: studies show pregnant women get in more crashes during their second trimester compared to other times in pregnancy or pre-/post-pregnancy and it takes out the steering wheel as a potential impact during a crash.)
“Car accidents can be a real concern. Crashes can cause both direct fetal injuries and premature birth that can lead to birth defects. How can you protect your unborn baby from a car accident? And when is it necessary to take extra care while driving during pregnancy?” These are all valid questions raised by Sean M. Cleary, a Miami car accident lawyer, in his effort to raise awareness on the safety precautionary measures necessary when driving while pregnant.
Armed with information on when to be more careful and with the proper precautions to prevent accidents and protect themselves and their unborn babies, most women can drive safely during their pregnancy. Provided you have not had any problems with your pregnancy and there are no medical reasons in which your doctor has advised you against driving, you could take into account the following basic guidelines.
Driving During the First Trimester: What to Expect
In your first trimester, the uterus isn’t exposed; the bones of the pelvis act as a protective barrier. So you can breathe a sigh of relief that a miscarriage caused by abdominal trauma is not likely.
However, at the beginning of pregnancy, fatigue and nausea can make it hard for you to concentrate. Be sure to take regular breaks and, if possible, drive only when you’re feeling alert and well-rested. For the safety of your unborn baby, the general safety advice is to use the combination of seat belts and airbags that have been repeatedly shown to reduce trauma in a car accident.
Driving During the Second Trimester: Stay Alert
Pregnant women are more prone to car accidents in the second trimester. This is when a woman’s chance of getting into an accident is about the same as someone with sleep apnea. And these chances are high. In the U.S., it’s estimated that approximately 800,000 drivers are involved in sleep apnea-related collisions annually.
The fact that pregnant women are more prone to accidents in the second trimester might seem strange, considering the fact nausea, fatigue and distraction are common in the first and last trimesters. In fact, it’s the effect of too much confidence; when you feel better, you can become too confident and allow yourself to relax too much behind the wheel and maybe lose a bit of sight about safety.
How can a crash affect the unborn baby? In the second trimester, the unborn baby becomes vulnerable to direct injury and even a mild-perceived car accident could be dangerous. Throughout this time, however, the baby remains mobile and cushioned by a relatively abundant volume of amniotic fluid.
Here are the basic actions you can take to make driving safe for you and your unborn child:
Wear the seat belt
As your belly grows, the regular seat belt will make you feel uncomfortable, as it starts to press against your bump. However, securely fastening and properly adjusting your seat belt reduces the risk of serious fetal injury by more than 50%. Without it, a direct impact with the steering wheel in the event of a car accident could cause serious pregnancy complications, such as placental abruption or uterine rupture, or fetal injuries.
Skipping the seat belt now that your pregnancy belly is prominent might be tempting, but is a major mistake. You need to wear it, but you should position the lap belt as far down below the belly as possible, so it doesn’t press on the baby. The diagonal shoulder belt must go on the shoulder but away from the neck, and in the middle of the chest. To keep your growing belly safe at all times while driving, you can use a Tummy Shield to hold the lap belt tight around your upper thighs and absolutely secure in your seat.
Leave 10 inches between the belly and the wheel
One of the biggest dangers of driving while pregnant is letting your belly touch the steering wheel. To avoid this, you need to leave at least 10 inches between the wheel and your belly. So slide your chair backward as much as you can, while still ensuring optimal reach to the pedals.
Leave the airbags on
Although you might have concerns about the impact of an airbag on your abdomen and might be tempted to turn off the airbags, this is a big mistake, so leave them on. Airbag deployment does not appear to adversely affect pregnant women or their unborn babies. (Safe Ride 4 Kids note: We also do recommend that you position the driver’s side airbag up toward the chest so it does not shoot out at the pregnant belly. If you are the passenger, move your seat back as far as possible so you have less contact with the airbag as it comes out at 200-400 mph.)
Driving During the Third Trimester: Try to Drive Less
As your baby bump grows bigger, it may be harder for you to get in and out of the car. However, that may be the least of your worries when thinking about continuing driving safely. By now, the uterus is prominent, thin-walled, exposed to blunt abdominal trauma and more susceptible to injury. In addition, your pelvis, bladder and even the amniotic fluid may make an injury more complex for the unborn baby in the unfortunate event of a car accident and abdominal trauma. What basic measures can you take to continue driving safely?
Adjust the seat
As your belly is growing, you need to adjust the seat, each month or week, to protect your unborn baby and stay comfortable. You should adjust the seat to keep your back as straight as possible. Your legs should also stay comfortable and maintain their natural position.
Adjust the steering wheel
If you leave enough space for the belly but you can’t reach the pedals anymore, it would be safe to stop driving until you give birth. In this case, it is probably best to avoid trading safety for comfort.
Even if you find yourself in a low-impact car accident while pregnant (no matter how far along you are), you need to be examined by a doctor immediately after the incident. This way, potential complications can be caught early on and can be addressed as soon as possible, in order to avoid any negative impact on you or your unborn child.
Sean M. Cleary is the principal attorney and founder of The Law Offices of Sean M. Cleary, a personal injury law firm based in Miami, Florida. Sean represents the families of children who have been severely injured in car accidents, product liability and medical malpractice cases.
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