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Does being pregnant increase your risk of a car accident?

July 13, 2016 by Steven M. Gursten

One study says it does by as much as 42%, as “pregnancy brain” may contribute to more errors behind the wheel when expecting


Look, I know — especially as a guy — one of the things you are never supposed to say is “pregnancy brain.”

That probably counts twice as much if your wife is pregnant.  And it’s not as if pregnant women need one more thing on their laundry list to worry about.

But there is one more thing.

The risk of a pregnant woman being involved in a car accident is higher, according to one Canadian study.

The questions I receive as an auto attorney from expecting moms are usually about child car seats and what to do to stay safe in the car when a baby arrives.

But let’s not forget about the moms.

The study showing expectant moms are at a higher risk of car crashes involved Canadian researchers who reviewed the medical records of 500,000 women who gave birth between 2006 and 2011. The researchers found these moms were 42% more likely to be in a motor vehicle accident when they were expecting. The study was based out of the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto and published in Canadian Medical Association Journal in 2014.

It is not entirely clear why pregnant women are at increased risk, but the study suggests that a mix of the stress and other pregnancy symptoms like nausea, fatigue, back pain and sleepless nights might make it more difficult to concentrate on the road. Some experts point to “pregnancy brain.” Though not a medical term or proven condition, “pregnancy brain” refers to small bouts of forgetfulness during pregnancy, which may lead to increased errors on the road.

As an auto accident attorney, the part that most resonates with the actual cases that I litigate involved fatigue. Fatigue has been equated to drunk driving, in terms of impaired judgment, impaired decision-making, and impaired motor skills. Driver fatigue figures prominently in many of the serious trucking wreck cases that I am involved in as an attorney when I review the driver logs and hours of service and find a fatigued driver behind the wheel.

Indeed, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation has even stated that truck driver fatigue is a “leading factor” in the nearly 4,000 truck accident fatalities every year.

It makes sense that it carries over to women who are pregnant and who are experiencing interrupted sleep.

How can pregnant moms stay safe while driving?

The good news is, if pregnant women and their families are aware of the increased car accident risk, hopefully we can help prevent many of these wrecks before they occur.

Here are some tips for safe driving during pregnancy:

  • Get back to the basics of road safety: Such as making full stop at red lights, signaling your turns, avoiding driving when feeling fatigued and put down that phone.
  • Always wear a seatbelt. For pregnant women, it’s advised to place the bottom of the belt below your belly (more to come on this topic soon).
  • Limit driving: Try limiting your driving time to no more than five to six hours per day at the very most.
  • If your car has airbags, don’t turn them off: Instead, try to tilt your seat away from the dashboard and move it as far back from the dashboard as you can, according to the March of Dimes.

If you’re in a car accident while pregnant

Any time you’re in a car accident — whether it’s a fender-bender or a serious pileup involving multiple vehicles — you should be examined as soon as possible. This is regardless of how far along you are in your pregnancy.

According to an article on babycenter.com, by Dr. Wendy Wilcox, “What should I do if I’m in a car accident while pregnant?”, the womb offers some protection for your baby and placenta during a sudden impact. But slamming on the brakes, even if the resulting jolt is not severe, can potentially separate the placenta from the uterus. This is called “placental abruption,” and can lead to serious problems including hemorrhage, miscarriage, or premature delivery. Yet even with an abruption, you may not notice any symptoms, and that’s why it’s best to always get checked.

If you receive the okay to return home, you’ll need to watch for subsequent bleeding, leaking fluid, contractions or other abdominal pain, or a decline in the baby’s movement. If you experience any of these symptoms, call your doctor immediately.

It’s also always a good idea to call an experienced car accident lawyer, who can answer your questions about your legal rights and medical care under our auto No Fault laws, free of charge.

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