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Car Safety Guide for Expecting Mothers

Fact-checked with HomeInsurance.com

    Table of contents

      Staying healthy during pregnancy requires a lot of effort – attending regular doctor’s appointments, taking daily vitamins, drinking plenty of water and, of course, getting enough sleep. But as you strive to follow all the advice from health experts, it’s important not to overlook the daily activities that can put your baby at risk. At the top of the list is driving safety.

      Every year, approximately 170,000 pregnant women are involved in auto crashes. Getting in an accident is dangerous enough in itself, but carrying a baby poses a whole new set of risks to both you and your unborn child. Even relatively minor car accidents can cause dangerous complications, such as preterm labor, for example.

      Once your baby is born, there are even more safety concerns to keep in mind. Motor vehicles are a leading cause of injury and death for children up to the age of 19. Standard seatbelts don’t offer enough protection until they reach an advanced height — sometimes as late as their preteen years. Until then, you’ll need to make sure your child is strapped into a car seat every time they are in a vehicle.

      Even if you can’t eliminate the risk entirely, there’s plenty you can do to help keep your child out of harm’s way both before and after they’re born. We talked to car safety experts to find out what steps women should be taking to make car trips safer throughout their pregnancy and once they welcome their baby home.

      Driver and Passenger Safety

      As long as your doctor doesn’t give you any restrictions, there’s no reason you can’t drive for the full duration of your pregnancy. Still, you should be aware of the risks associated with getting behind the wheel.

      Depending on how far along you are, you can have a higher risk of being involved in a crash. One study found that pregnant women are 42% more likely to get in an accident during their second trimester than those who aren’t expecting. Doctor Donald Redelmeier (who led the study) explained that this is likely due to the hormonal fluctuations that occur during these middle stages. Risk declines in the third trimester, but is still higher than before and after pregnancy.

      Redelmeier explains; “We’ve known for a long time that pregnancy causes fatigue, insomnia, nausea and stress. What we wondered was how all those factors might contribute to driver error and the possibility of a life-threatening motor vehicles crash — I was surprised by the magnitude of the effect… It’s a substantial risk.”

      Seat Position

      As a general rule, you should try to position your seat as far back as possible while pregnant.

      If you’re in the driver’s seat, this means leaving as much room as you can between your belly and the steering wheel with your feet still comfortably reaching the pedals. As a passenger, you can simply slide the seat as far back as it goes.

      Wherever you’re sitting in the car, keep your seat upright and avoid reclining. There should never be a gap between your shoulder and the seat belt.

      Seat belts

      Regarding seat belts, the advice from experts is simple: wear one.

      “It is a common misconception that wearing a seat belt will harm the fetus, which is simply not true,” say the personal injury attorneys at Schneider Hammers, an Atlanta law firm. “Wearing only the lap belt or the shoulder belt is not enough.”

      “Women should wear a 3-point restraint seat belt with the lap belt placed below the abdomen and the shoulder belt placed diagonally above the abdomen.”

      Airbags

      Even if your instinct is to switch them off, you should never disable your vehicle’s airbags while pregnant.

      While it may seem counterintuitive, airbags designed to work together with your seatbelt to protect both you and your baby in a crash. They’re much safer than the possibility of hitting the vehicle’s interior upon impact.

      Helpful Tools

      If you still feel anxious about getting in a car during your pregnancy, there are a few tools available to adapt your vehicle’s safety features and give you peace of mind.

      Once you start buying maternity clothes, you may feel uncomfortable wearing a seatbelt. The Tummy Shield is a seatbelt modifier that removes pressure from your belly by anchoring the lap belt between your legs. This redistributes force across your legs and hips in the event of an accident.

      You may also want to keep a car escape tool on hand. These devices typically include a seatbelt cutter and can break glass to help you get out of a vehicle that has crashed. They’re available online and at many hardware stores.

      Don’t forget about digital tools; apps like Drivemode help you avoid getting distracted by your smartphone with voice commands and integration with your favorite music, navigation and messaging apps.

      Baby On Board

      Whether it’s driving your brand new baby home from the hospital, or taking small children to appointments or school, car safety should be a top priority. According to the CDC, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among children under the age of 19.

      The most reliable way to keep your child safe in the car is to continue following the safe driving practices you established during pregnancy and make them lifelong habits. Following pregnancy and with the new baby on board, there are a few extra precautions you should take.

      Car Seat Safety

      For the first eight to 12 years of their life, your child should never ride in a car without the appropriate car seat for their age and size. This starts the day you drive home from the hospital with a rear-facing car seat designed for infants — a seat you should plan to keep them in for quite some time.

      “Newborns will always need to be in a rear facing seat and should continue to be rear facing until they are at least two years old AND 20 pounds,” says Andrea DuMez, RN, pregnancy expert at Wumblekin, a subscription box company for expecting mothers. 

      As your baby grows, know their car seat’s height and weight limit and be prepared to upgrade if they get too big. “You may need to purchase a second seat or a seat that is ‘convertible’, meaning that it can be used rear facing or forward facing if your child outgrows a seat before they can turn around,” says DuMez.

      Once a rear facing car seat is no longer necessary, you can transition to a forward facing car seat, and eventually switch to a simple booster seat. The age at which your child no longer needs any form of car seat will depend how quickly they grow; some children may be able to use a seatbelt by the age of eight while others may not be tall enough until they’re 12.

      The table below lists the suggested car seat timeline from the NHTSA:

      Age/HeightCar Seat
      Birth – 12 monthsRear facing in all scenarios
      1 – 3 yearsRear facing until they reach the height and weight limit listed by the manufacturer
      4 – 7 yearsForward facing until they reach the height and weight limit listed by the manufacturer
      8 – 12 yearsBooster seat (always in the back seat) until they reach the height at which a seat belt fits properly

      If you’re ever uncertain about which car seat is appropriate for your child, know that you don’t have to figure it out alone.

      “Most communities have events or resources to set up a car seat check,” says DuMez. “This is something that I would recommend to anyone who will be frequently transporting your child and can be done before [the] baby is born. Events are generally free and can be set up through your hospital, birth center or a local fire department.”

      DuMez recommends checking with Safe Kids to find out about the next car seat check event in your area.

      Finally, if you are involved in a moderate or severe crash, don’t forget to replace your child’s car seat per recommendations from the NHTSA. Since car seats are designed to absorb the impact of a crash, they may no longer provide the highest level of protection if they’ve sustained damage in an accident.

      Don’t Forget Baby

      Your baby is the center of your world, so it’s hard to picture a scenario in which you could ever leave them in a car by accident. But the fatigue brought on by early parenthood can play tricks on the brain and make you forget even the simplest things.

      Even if this sounds unimaginable, it happens much more often than you’d think. The NHTSA recorded 31 heatstroke deaths in 2019 from children who had been forgotten in hot cars.

      Some parents put a visual reminder, such as a sticker, on their dashboard to prevent this devastating mistake. Others download smartphone apps or install alarms in their child’s car seat.

      The attorneys at Schneider Hammers offer this recommendation: “When leaving your home, place an item like a cell phone or purse in the back seat beside your child’s seat. It will guarantee you open the back door and look in the back before leaving the vehicle every time.”

      Avoiding Accidents

      The car can be a very dangerous place for your child – both after and before they’re born. “Motor vehicle crashes during pregnancy are all too common,” say the attorneys at Schneider Hammers. “Car accidents are not always avoidable, but there are good general practices that lessen your chances of being involved in an accident.”

      Here’s how to avoid the unexpected while you’re expecting.

      Stay Alert

      Distracted driving causes one out of every seven accidents according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, so take all the steps you need to ensure you won’t lose focus while behind the wheel. Keep your phone silenced and out of reach where it won’t cause temptation. Some smartphones have a driving mode that, when activated, temporarily pause notifications and send automatic replies to incoming messages.

      Nausea is extremely common during pregnancy, especially the first trimester. If you’re tired or feeling unwell, avoid driving if at all possible. Don’t be afraid to ask a friend or family member to take you where you need to go instead. Remember that most U.S. public transportation networks offer priority seating for pregnant women.

      If you do start driving and feel a wave of sickness come on unexpectedly, take a deep breath and calmly pull over to a safe place away from traffic. Wait a few minutes to see if you feel better. If not, have a list of contacts on hand so that you can call someone to bring you home. Keep plenty of bottled water in your car to sip if you feel unwell.

      Update Insurance

      While being pregnant and having a baby doesn’t inherently change the amount of auto insurance you need, it’s still a good idea to review coverage early on in your pregnancy.

      The attorneys at Schneider Hammers recommend purchasing uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage if you don’t already have it. “This provides an extra layer of protection to you and your family in the event you are involved in a collision with someone who is completely uninsured or does not carry enough insurance,” they explain.

      Remember that if you do get in an accident while expecting, your pregnancy may drive up your medical expenses if doctors need to run extra tests to check on your baby’s health.

      FAQ

      What vehicle settings should pregnant women use while driving?

      Motor vehicle crashes during pregnancy are all too common events, so it is important to take precautions while driving. For example, always wear a seat belt. The risk of injury to yourself and your unborn child increases dramatically with no or improper seat belt use. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that during pregnancy, women should wear a 3-point restraint seat belt with the lap belt placed below the abdomen and the shoulder belt placed diagonally above the abdomen. Wearing only the lap belt or the shoulder belt is not enough. It is a common misconception that wearing a seat belt will harm the fetus, which is simply not true. Likewise, do not turn off the vehicle’s airbags. Studies have shown that airbags reduce the chance of injury to pregnant women.

      Schneider Hammers, Atlanta Personal Injury Attorneys

      What are some car safety tips for the day the baby comes home?

      The first time driving in the car with a newborn home is a stressful one for any new parent. Prepare a plan before you give birth. Most importantly, install the car seat in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions well in advance of your due date. Most manufacturers give extremely detailed installation instructions, and it is important to get the installation correct. Parents can also have the child’s safety seat inspected free of charge in many states. Inspection stations are frequently located at local automobile dealerships, police stations, firehouses, hospitals, and many more places. To find an inspection station in your area, please visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website or call 1- 866-SEAT-CHECK.

      Schneider Hammers, Atlanta Personal Injury Attorneys

      Use a seat that fits your child’s weight and height requirements and that can be used in your car in the correct way.

      Newborns will always need to be in a rear facing seat and should continue to be rear facing until they are at least two years old AND 20 pounds. You may need to purchase a second seat or a seat that is “convertible”, meaning that it can be used rear facing or forward facing if your child outgrows a seat before they can turn around. Once forward facing, your child should continue to use a five point harness until they are at least 4 years old and 40 pounds. Again, be sure that you know the weight and height limits of the seat and harness.

      Andrea DuMez, RN, pregnancy expert at Wumblekin

      Resources

      • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration publishes guidelines and statistics regarding vehicle safety, with specific tips available for pregnant women.
      • For any concerns regarding your baby’s health or your own, check with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The organization’s website has a dedicated section for travel-related advice.
      • Safe Kids is a nonprofit dedicated to improving children’s health and safety. The group regularly organizes free community car seat checkups. You’ll also find online guides to help choose the right car seat for your baby.
      • Pregnant women who feel uncomfortable wearing a seatbelt can try Tummy Shield, a crash-tested seat belt modifier that anchors the lap belt between your legs. To make the device more affordable, the company sells open-box products at a discount and offers no-interest payment plans.
      • If you can’t afford a car seat for your baby, consult the list of financial assistance programs published by the American Pregnancy Association.