Proper Seatbelt Use by Pregnant Women
Proper seatbelt use by pregnant women would save 200 fetuses a year
A recent UMTRI study found that approximately 200 fetuses could be saved each year with proper seatbelt buckling each time a pregnant woman travels in an automobile. An estimated 370 fetuses die as a result of car crashes each year in the United States. A recent UMTRI study found that this number could be reduced to about 200 with proper seatbelt buckling each time a pregnant woman travels in an automobile.
Kathleen DeSantis Klinich, assistant research scientist in UMTRI's Biosciences Division, and Mark D. Pearlman, M.D., vice-chair in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Michigan (U-M) Health System and the S. Jan Behrman Professor of Reproductive Medicine, worked on the study with colleagues in the U-M Department of Emergency Medicine and the U-M College of Engineering. These include Carol Flannagan and Jonathan D. Rupp of UMTRI, Mark Sochor of UMTRI and the U-M Department of Emergency Medicine, and Larry Schneider of UMTRI and the U-M Department of Biomedical Engineering.
The research debunks a long-standing myth that wearing a seatbelt is not safe for pregnant women. Pearlman says, "Some women are very concerned because the lap belt overlies their fetus. This study shows that the opposite is true, that seatbelts clearly help to protect the fetus. It's very clear, based on this study, that pregnant women should buckle up every single time they’re in a vehicle."
The proper technique is for the lap belt to be low, under the belly, and for the shoulder belt to be crossing in the center of the chest, as shown in the photo. Klinich says, "Given that all cars in America have seatbelts, the potential benefits of these findings are significant."
The study, the first of its kind, performed detailed crash analysis, including accurate estimates of the crash severity, restraint usage, and pregnancy outcome. The researchers studied data from 57 automobile crashes involving pregnant women. Among the six improperly restrained women in these crashes, three (50 percent) experienced fetal death or major fetal complications. Among the 10 unbelted women, eight (80 percent) of the instances resulted in fetal death or major complications. Among the properly restrained women, 29 percent of instances resulted in fetal death or complications.
The study also found that:
- About 6 to 7 percent of women are involved in a car crash during their pregnancy. That translates to about 170,000 car crashes a year involving pregnant women.
- Pregnant women who are in car crashes resulting in serious fetal adverse outcomes are unbelted 62 percent of the time.
- The proper use of seatbelts by pregnant women would prevent approximately 84 percent of serious fetal adverse outcomes (injuries and deaths) due to car crashes.
- If all women simply wore their seatbelts during pregnancy, approximately 200 fetal lives would be saved. (This doesn't include prevention of an unknown number of preterm births and placental abruptions with potential for long-term disability).
- There are more fetal deaths due to car impacts than there are child deaths due to bicycle accidents, or child deaths due to car accidents in the first year of life.
Financial support for the research described in the paper was provided by General Motors, pursuant to an agreement between GM and the U.S. Department of Transportation, by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers which sponsors UMTRI's in-depth crash investigation program, and by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration which sponsors the Crash Injury Research and Engineering Network (CIREN) program.
The results of the study appear in American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Volume 198, Issue 4, April 2008. The title of the article is "Fetal Outcome in Motor-Vehicle Crashes: Effects of Crash Characteristics and Maternal Restraint."
- Watch a CNN video on the topic, which includes a demonstration of proper seatbelt usage
- Find out more about UMTRI research on pregnant vehicle occupants