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Car and Truck Accidents Put Pregnant Women, Unborn Babies at Particular Risk

In a 2009 interview with the New York Times, Virginia Tech biomechanical engineering professor Stefan Duma shared this fact: "More pregnant women die in car crashes than in birthing complications."

Duma explained that steering wheel impacts with the larger-than-normal abdomens and chests of woman carrying children account for a majority of the traffic crash fatalities. He also noted that a common result of such injuries is that a developing fetus becomes detached from the wall of the uterus. This can lead to miscarriage, pre-term labor and birth, neurological problems such as cerebral palsy and still-birth.

Even the dry, clinical description of what can happen when a car or truck crashes into a vehicle driven by a  pregnant woman is frightening. And, having experienced that fear personally after being struck by another driver while carrying my own child, I know I would never wish that worry on anyone else.

Neither I nor my baby suffered severe injuries, but thousands of women each year are not so lucky. As many as 1,000 babies may be lost in the United States each year as a direct result of car and truck accidents. Countless other pregnancies end early because of crashes, endangering the health of both the mothers and the newborns.

Physical injury is a leading cause of pre-term births and pre-term labor. Some doctors may attempt to prevent early delivery because premature babies often experience significant health and development problems, ranging from difficulty breathing to mental disabilities. One drug used to stop early labor is terbutaline, which is primarily an asthma medication.

Terbutaline can prove effective, but a significant percentage of women and their babies can pay a high price for that effectiveness. The medication often induces diabetes, and it causes a racing heartbeat, fluid in the lungs and chest pain in as many as 5 percent of the women who receive it. Terbutaline can produce the same effects in an unknown number of unborn children, and those side effects may impair healthy growth in the womb.

The hard fact is that car and truck accidents present an array of immediate and lasting dangers to pregnant women and their unborn babies. Avoiding major injuries during the collision may only leave both vulnerable to side effects from treatments to prevent pre-term labor and delivery. May few expectant mothers learn this firsthand.

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