Arrive Alive

Pregnancy and Safe Driving

Introduction

In modern society the mother-to-be simply can’t stay at home and wait around for nine months. It is important for our pregnant road users to know that unless they suffer from a special condition, they can live normal lives without too many changes. As long as it is comfortable they can get in a car right up until the end of pregnancy.

It would however be wise for pregnant women to avoid driving in conditions that might increase stress, such as driving in bad weather conditions, rain, wind or icy weather. Driving at night can also be stressful as your sight can be diminished and in many cases your body is growing tired.

We would like to address some of the concerns of pregnant road users and suggest safety advice for safe driving so the mothers-to-be can maintain the mobility that they have become used to.

Pregnancy and medical advice

  • It is most important to listen to the advice of the doctor following your health during pregnancy - Most will tell you it's ok to travel during pregnancy, but each situation is different.
  • Your doctor, midwife or consultant can advise you if you have any conditions which make long journeys or any other travel inadvisable. 
  • Once you are pregnant, tiredness, 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 a risk of pre-term labour, consult with your doctor before planning to travel at any time during the 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. 
  • Also discuss travel with your partner - if you are within a month of your due date – this is not a good time for either of you to travel. 
  • Do not drive if you suffer from serious toxicosis, motion of a car makes you sick or any smells, especially chemical ones, disconcert you. During the trip you may experience petrol vapour and exhaust acutely, which can cause headaches, giddiness and even fainting.
  • Do not drive if you are too excitable and irritable – this might lead to a high probability of your unequal behavior while driving. 
  • Don't drive yourself to hospital when you are in labour. 
  • If you know there won't be anyone to drive you to hospital when you go into labour, discuss this with your midwife in advance. 
  • If you find when the big moment comes, that your partner cannot be there to drive you, call the hospital if it seems that an emergency ambulance is needed.

Different stages of pregnancy and driving

Best advice is to discuss this with your doctor – we would suggest the following:

  • Travel during pregnancy can be fatiguing 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 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 you’re experiencing difficulties such as bleeding or cramping, don't travel. 
  • Problems with swelling, traveling, 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. 
  • Don't plan a trip during your last month of pregnancy - Consult your physician if you plan to travel during your third trimester. 
  • If you have not had any problems with your pregnancy and there are no medical reasons such as dizziness which might have made your doctor or obstetrician advise against driving, then it is up to you and how you feel.
  • In the third trimester, labor could begin at any time, your water could break or other problems could occur. Your doctors’ 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, and it can be awkward. It is not worth taking a chance. 
  • By the time you reach the latter stages of your pregnancy, your growing bump may pose a bit of a problem - if your bump has got huge, it’s likely to be very close to the steering wheel, which isn’t comfortable. 
  • If you have a partner - get your partner to drive instead – and you can sit back and enjoy being driven!

Wearing of seatbelt while pregnant

  • Many pregnant ladies complain that safety belts create additional discomfort and are confused about wearing seat belts and shoulder harnesses during pregnancy. 
  • They wonder if wearing the restraints over their abdomen could cause a problem. 
  • Restraints are however necessary during pregnancy, just as they are necessary when you're not pregnant. 
  • Seat-belt use is so important that the National Highway Safety Administration has designed a "pregnant" crash-test dummy. The dummy is used in simulated car crashes to record how an accident could affect a pregnant woman and her unborn baby. 
  • There is no evidence that use of safety restraints increases the chance of foetal or uterine injury. 
  • You have a better chance of survival in an accident wearing a seat belt than not wearing one. 
  • Safety belt won`t bring harm to your baby, which is encircled with amniotic fluid from all sides. It protects him from strong blows, which are dangerous for the foetus. 
  • No matter what the stage of your pregnancy, it is vital that you always wear a seat belt. 
  • By wearing a seat belt you are protecting yourself and your unborn baby in the event of a crash. 
  • Remember that it is illegal not to wear a seat belt unless you have a current certificate signed by a medical practitioner exempting you due to medical reasons. 
  • All pregnant women must wear seat belts by law when travelling in cars. This applies to both front and back seats - pregnancy does not in itself automatically provide exemption from the law.
  • Wearing a seatbelt reduces the injury risk to your unborn baby by up to 70%. 
  • Even if your own injuries are slight in a crash, there is still a risk of losing your baby. Wearing a seatbelt reduces this risk. 
  • People who don't wear a seatbelt can injure other people in the vehicle as well as themselves in a crash

What does research about pregnant driving tell us?

  • Research shows that unbelted pregnant women are more than three times likely to lose their baby in a crash, 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 five percent chance of losing your baby if unrestrained.
  • A 2008 study from the University of Michigan estimates that proper seatbelt use by pregnant women would save 200 foetuses each year. 
  • There are medical complications that can occur to the mother as well as the baby. 
  • A study in San Diego found that 68% of women involved in a crash while not wearing a seat belt noted abdominal pain. Some mothers are also more likely to experience complications from blood clots, fractures, and internal injuries if involved in a crash while unrestrained. 
  • 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

  • It’s a common worry during pregnancy that if you wear a seatbelt it might put too much pressure on your stomach and your baby, especially if an accident occurs. 
  • Studies have found that it’s safer for both mum and baby if you do wear a seatbelt and is much more dangerous to not wear one at all. 
  • Whilst wearing a seat belt during pregnancy may not be comfortable, it will improve safety for both mother and baby. 
  • When you must do the driving, learn to place the seat belt in the correct position - There is definitely a correct way to wear a seat belt. 
  • Place the lap-belt part of the restraint under your abdomen and across your upper thighs so it's snug and comfortable - The lap belt should never ever be placed on or above your belly.
  • Wearing a lap belt alone will do more harm than good. 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. 
  • Adjust your sitting position so the belt crosses your shoulder without cutting into your neck. 
  • The shoulder belt should cross over your collar bone and lay between your breasts. It should be positioned so that it does not hit 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 tight as possible -In this way the forces applied in a sudden impact can be absorbed by the body's frame.

The air bag and pregnant drivers

  • After much debate over pregnancy and seat belts and air bags - it’s important to note that both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and American College of Obstetrics and Gynaecologists support the use of properly adjusted three point safety belts and enabled air bags. 
  • Air bags are meant to work with seat belts in protecting both mother and child.
  • Air bags inflate within approximately one-twentieth of a second after a crash. The inflated air bag creates a protective cushion between the driver or passenger and the steering wheel, dashboard, and windscreen. 
  • It is safe to be near airbags whilst you’re pregnant - Safety experts recommend that all car occupants (not just pregnant women) should move their seat as far back as possible and tilt it slightly backwards. This maximises the distance between your chest and the steering wheel if you are driving. 
  • Doctors strongly recommend leaving airbags turned on, whether riding as a passenger or the driver. 
  • Leave air bags operational; just remember that you should have a good 30cm or so between your stomach and a potential air bag. 
  • No authorities have yet issued definitive guidelines on the use of air bags by pregnant women, though some manufacturers advise that mums-to-be should not sit in front seats with a passenger air bag. 
  • Avoid leaning or reaching forward, and sit back in the seat with as little slack in the seat belt as possible - this will reduce your forward movement in a crash and allow the airbag to inflate correctly. 
  • To cut your risks of injury even further, though, you could sit buckled –in at the back seat, which is the safest place to travel in any car.

General advice and suggestions to pregnant drivers

  • Make sure your seat is positioned comfortable and not too close to the steering wheel (in case of an accident and the air bag deploys). 
  • Leave some space (at least 10 cm) between your belly and steering wheel, bend back slightly. [Whilst still able to observe] 
  • If possible -use a vehicle with adjustable steering wheels and seats so that you can customize your seating position to optimize your control over the car.
  • Check your view out of your mirrors if you push your seat back or change the height of the steering wheel. 
  • Make sure that after you adjust your seat you can still comfortably reach the accelerator, brake, and clutch – if you are stretching to reach the pedals, it could affect your reaction time. 
  • Remove coats or jackets that restrict your ability to move freely behind the wheel and learn to rely on the heating system of the vehicle to keep you warm. 
  • If you suffer from pains in back, massage seat nets, wattle of wooden balls or tarpaulin ones with air gap will be of great help for you. 
  • During a long trip stop and have some rest - leave the car, walk for a while, stretch yourself, do everything to relax and relieve tension. 
  • Feet and ankles are prone to swelling in pregnancy and can be worsened by sitting still for too long. 
  • Whilst you’re a passenger in the car you can gently move your feet around, rotating your ankles and wiggling your toes. 
  • Take small snacks and water with you on journeys as your body now demands better sustenance throughout the day.
  • Always bring a lumbar support (it can be a small pillow or rolled up sweater or small blanket). Position the lumbar support against the lower curve of your back, and reposition until your find the spot that feels best. 
  • If your back is sore, think about bringing along a heat or cold pack that you can use to help reduce discomfort. 
  • If you’re suffering from morning sickness, you may feel nauseous in the car. Try sucking on crystallized ginger, as it’s a great natural remedy for nausea. 
  • Avoid travelling alone, especially in the later stages of pregnancy. 
  • Ensure you’re enrolled with a breakdown service in case of emergencies. 
  • Always carry a mobile phone with you – Also take your passport, medical insurance and medical record with you. Put a paper with your close people`s contacts in your documents. 
  • If you're driving in winter conditions pack warm clothing, some snacks, water and blankets in case of car trouble.  
  • Avoid places where good medical care is not available or where changes in climate, food or altitude could cause you problems.

Conclusion

Always remember that your safety comes first – avoid unnecessary time and threats on our roads. Whenever possible, let someone else do the driving as the more space you place between your unborn child and a steering wheel, the better.

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