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Is Wearing a Seatbelt while Pregnant Safe?

By Kevin Chan in Car Accidents on February 19, 2022

Is Wearing a Seatbelt while Pregnant Safe?

Congratulations – your family is expecting a baby! Between now and the delivery room, there will feel like there are a million decisions for you and your family to make, particularly when it affects the potential health of your unborn child. Pregnancy can be an exciting time for all involved, but it can also cause expectant mothers to start second-guessing everything they do, right down to their daily routine, like driving.

Choosing not to drive out of safety concerns for the 40 weeks of a full-term pregnancy is not a realistic option for many Canadians. In and of itself, there is nothing hazardous about driving that pregnant women should be concerned about, but are a few risk factors to think about while you’re on the road, carrying a baby. 

Driving safety: a look at the numbers

No matter if you’re pregnant or not, it’s important to exercise caution and drive safely if you’re planning to be on the road. There are, on average, 300,000 car accidents in Canada every year, resulting in just over 140,000 injuries. Breaking that down by demographic, the most impacted group are those aged 25-34 years of age, accounting for over 26,000 injuries, followed by 22,000 injured aged 35-44. With the average age of pregnancy in Canada around 29 years of age, this puts pregnant mothers in the bracket with the highest likelihood of being involved in a car accident. 

Common reasons for car accidents

With provincial measures to limit public gatherings and excursions being a major reason, the number of traffic collisions has fallen significantly in recent years as compared, as a result of the decreased number of drivers. The reasons for car accidents are, however, familiar ones and continue to be important issues for drivers to remember. 

Inappropriate speed

From speeding on highways to travelling dangerously fast in pedestrian zones, driving in excess of a speed that you can control as the driver is one of the top reasons for car accidents. High-speed car accidents are particularly dangerous as they carry the risk for serious physical injury and trauma, for both pregnant women and fetuses. 

Car accidents can also occur in situations where, while the vehicle is not being driven in excess of the speed limit, the driver is unable to control the car. This could be due to fatigue or sleepiness, poor road conditions, or technical problems with the vehicle. For some pregnant women, as their baby grows within them, their larger body size might become something that prevents them from fully controlling the car while driving; for example, if they are unable to comfortably grasp the steering wheel around their belly, or can’t shift their driving foot between accelerator and brake pedal smoothly. 

Alcohol and drug use impairment

Over 60,000 injuries occur every year as a result of impaired driving. Driving while under the influence of alcohol or other substances is unsafe for a number of reasons:

  • Operating a motor vehicle requires the driver’s full concentration, particularly when road conditions and visibility are not good. 
  • Substances like alcohol and drugs can affect someone’s emotional state and mood, which can lead to poor decision-making. Incidences like road rage, driving through red lights and stop signs, and accelerating through yellow lights for drivers who would normally drive safely can be attributed to how alcohol and drugs can affect someone’s demeanor and personality.
  • Side effects of taking alcohol and drugs are often unpredictable, particularly for a pregnant woman. Even in the case of prescribed pharmaceuticals, severe side effects while driving could result in you losing control of your vehicle and ending up in an accident.

In addition to the legal consequences of using alcohol and drugs while driving a car, there are serious possible consequences associated with driving with alcohol and drugs.

Distracted driving and lack of attention

Defined as anything that causes a driver’s attention to shift from focusing on controlling the vehicle raises the risk of being involved in a car accident and possible injury, distracted driving is another major reason for car accidents. This might include using a cellphone while driving or changing the music playlist on your portable device. The few seconds that it takes you to return your eyes and focus on what is in front of you on the road could be all it takes to end up in an accident.

For pregnant drivers, in addition to navigating to your destination and possibly using your cellphones and other devices, there is an even longer list of possible distractions to worry about:

  • baby movements; baby kicks, possible discomfort or signs of distress
  • discomfort from the seatbelt wrapped tight around your pregnant body 
  • difficulty adjusting to driving while reaching around your belly
  • the stress from the social obligations – getting to doctor’s appointments, taking care of other children, going grocery shopping – that forced you to have to drive 

Any single one or combination of these distractions could cause you to lose focus for long enough to end up in an accident with another driver or object along the road.

Lack of seatbelt use 

There are an estimated 1,000 lives saved from potentially fatal car accidents from seatbelt use. 93% of Canadians reportedly use seatbelts, but it is the remaining 7% that makeup almost 40% of injuries resulting in death in the country. 

Deaths to fetuses in the case of car accidents are usually the result of the pregnant mother dying because she was not using her seatbelt. Although seatbelts may be uncomfortable for pregnant women, wearing seatbelts for the safety of you and your unborn baby is the best option, whenever you are in riding in a car, as the driver or passenger.

Risks for pregnant women when driving

Pregnant women need to be aware of conditions while driving that put them at risk for an accident or injury to their baby. 

Abrupt stops

Until about the second trimester, the fetus is well-protected inside your body from any bumps to your stomach area. Many expectant mothers may start to worry if someone pushes or rubs slightly too hard, but the baby is naturally well-protected in the uterus, by the position of the pelvis and the amniotic fluid encircling the baby. From the second trimester onward, however, it’s important to take care of anything that might bump or put pressure on your belly. While driving, this includes bumping the belly against the steering wheel, if you have to make an abrupt stop. 

Another example of something to avoid is rushing over speed bumps, something that many drivers may do from time to time. The lurching action of the car as it transitions over the bump is uncomfortable, at worst, for most, but a study from 2021 showed that speeding up over speed bumps can be dangerous to unborn babies, potentially resulting in injury to the fetus inside as it jerks the driver’s body around as the car moves over the bump. 

The second trimester

It’s been shown that women in their second trimester are more likely than in their first and third trimester to be in a car accident. The evidence is anecdotal but possible reasons for this include a weakened physical condition from experiencing morning sickness and unwell feelings associated with pregnancy. For some women, the second trimester is when their pregnancy begins to cause noticeable physical stress to their bodies, increasing backache and difficulty moving while being aware of the position of their belly. It’s important to be careful while you are driving during the entire pregnancy, but it seems that the second trimester is when you should take the most care. 

In short, the answer is yes: wear your seatbelt

Experts are unanimous that it is more advantageous for pregnant women to wear their seatbelts while pregnant. The risks of not wearing a seatbelt and potentially being in a car accident – the odds of which are not low – are not worth taking. 

A seatbelt, if worn properly, will provide a great deal more protection to the expectant mother and her unborn baby. The belt should be affixed around the lap area (not over the pregnant bulge or stomach) and across the shoulder bone (and not the neck). This should allow the “triangle” of the seatbelt to snugly wrap around your belly. Ensuring that the seatbelt is secure around your body, without unnecessary slack, is also an important step to take when you get into the car. 

For drivers, adjusting your steering wheel may be necessary to accommodate your growing baby belly. Make sure that the steering wheel is not jammed up against your body and causing your discomfort. If your car has airbags, keep that in mind when adjusting for space between you and the steering wheel – it’s recommended that you keep a distance of at least 25 centimetres between you (seated with your back flush to the driver’s seatback) and the steering wheel, to allow protective space between the deployed airbag and your body, and baby.

Stay safe, and keep your baby safe

The biggest thing to remember is that the squeeze that you will feel when putting on your seatbelt will not harm your baby. There are adjustments you can make – such as taking breaks throughout the trip to stop the car, unbuckle, and resume your travel – but while you are on the road, wearing a seatbelt is the safest thing you can do for your unborn baby. By keeping yourself safe, you are taking the first and most important step towards ensuring that your baby is safe as well. 

Quick Faq

Are aftermarket maternity seatbelt extenders safe?

The short answer is we don’t know. Seat belt adjusters for pregnancy that are advertised online and in stores have no crash test data supporting their safety or effectiveness .

How do I properly wear my lap belt while pregnant?

Low and flat on the top of your thighs and not on the abdomen. Doing this will make sure that the belt will start and secure the hip bones in a crash – and not put pressure on internal organs and the baby/placenta.

How should I wear my shoulder belt while pregnant?

The belt should rest between your neck and shoulder, directly between the breasts and over the belly. Make sure the seatbelt rests on your collarbone. Also, keep your seat in upright position.

How safe are airbags while pregnant?

Absolutely safe – is what years of data reports. Numerous studies suggest that restraint by both the seatbelt airbag does in fact lead to positive outcomes much more often than not, after a car accident – although Fetal outcome is most strongly associated with crash severity.

Our Hamilton Car Accident Lawyers can help

If you or a loved one has been involved in a serious accident our Hamilton car accident lawyers can help. Matt Lalande is a Hamilton trial lawyer who has recovered tens of millions in damages for plaintiffs in Hamilton and throughout Ontario since 2003.

Call us today with any questions you may have by calling us no matter where you are in Ontario at 1-844-LALANDE (525-2633) or local in the Hamilton / Burlington / Niagara regions at 905-333-8888. Alternatively, you can send us a confidential email through our website.

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