Generations ago, women may not have driven while pregnant as much as they do today, but with expansion of personal automobiles (most homes have at least two cars nowadays) and a higher percentage of women in the workforce, this tradition has been supplanted by an ever-increasing number of women carrying a baby driving regularly. This presents major risks for serious injury and even fetal death.
We don't know the full extent of this problem since states are not required to report fetal deaths in data sent to the federal fatal accident system. Researcher Stefan Duma of Virginia Tech said reliable studies indicate 300 to 1,000 fetal deaths occur each year because of car accidents, according to USA Today.
The fatality rate of unborn babies in car crashes is roughly four times the rate for newborns to 4-year-olds, according to Duma.
A study by the University of Michigan estimates roughly 170,000 car wrecks involve pregnant women each year in the United States. These estimates indicate there are more deaths to unborn children from car crashes than fatal car crashes to infants under age one, according to consumerreports.org.
The biggest injury risk is placental abruption where the placenta is torn from the uterine wall, which cuts off blood flow to the placenta.
There is currently no new safety technology or mechanisms available for pregnant drivers and many believe we're at least 15 years away from having any innovation in this particular area. The primary reason being this issue just hasn't been deemed a "major concern" by the auto industry (probably since the accident data is drastically underreported).
So what can be done about this? Ideally, women could reduce the amount of driving necessary while pregnant, especially during the final trimester, but this option isn't available to everyone. Even more troubling is the fact that our most reliable safety mechanism - a seat belt - can actually become a detriment to the safety of your soon-to-be-born baby during those final months since it can wind up restricting blood flow and circulation to the placenta. Another option would be to arrange to take public transportation such as a bus or cab to get to your destination.
There is an effort by Loughborough University in the United Kingdom to enhance pregnant women's quality of life both behind the wheel and as a passenger. However, their research is still in the early stages.
I wish there was some new, groundbreaking safety device I could tell you about, but this issue is largely overlooked and until the spotlight gets placed on the safety of pregnant women behind the wheel of a car, unborn babies (and the soon-to-be-mother drivers) will continue to be put at risk for a serious injury.