Driving with a baby bump may lead to a bumpy ride! You know that “pregnancy brain” everyone keeps talking about? It could be affecting your driving too. According to a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, women have more car crashes when they are pregnant than any other times in their lives. “It amounts to about a 1 in 50 statistical risk of the average woman having a motor vehicle crash at some point during her pregnancy,” said Dr. Donald Redelmeier, a researcher with the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto.
When you think about it, it shouldn’t be so surprising, as Dr. Redelmeier explains: "A normal pregnancy is associated with fatigue, nausea, insomnia, anxiety, and distraction. All those changes could contribute to driver error."
What is shocking, however, is that during the second trimester, a woman’s odds of being behind the wheel in a multi-car accident—one that was bad enough to send her to the emergency room—were 42 percent greater than they were in the three years before she became pregnant. But in a woman’s third trimester, when her belly is at her biggest, she presumably drove more cautiously, because the risk of a crash was significantly lower than even before she was pregnant.
So why the increase in crashes during the second trimester? The thought is that women in the first trimester, when they could be at their queasiest, either have someone else drive or that they are super-cautious because they know they don’t feel their best, and the idea of being a mom is brand new, so they are on their best behavior in all facets of their lives. And in their third trimester, their super-sized bellies are a constant reminder that they have a baby onboard who needs protecting. But in the second trimester, when most women are feeling like their old selves—after the morning sickness subsides for most—they are more likely to let their guards down and let their minds drift.
The conclusions were formed by looking at records for more than 500,000 women who gave birth in Ontario. The women were tracked for four years before and one year after the births. The researchers counted each car crash that was serious enough for a woman to show up in an emergency room.
Before pregnancy, the number of serious crashes for all the women, as drivers, was 177 per month, an annual rate of 4.5 per 1,000. That stayed steady in the first month of pregnancy. By the fourth month, the same women were having 299 serious crashes a month, or an annual rate of 7.6 per 1,000. The rate fell sharply by the last month of pregnancy, to 2.7 per 1,000—and stayed low the year after the births.
Researchers point out that this doesn’t mean women shouldn’t be driving while pregnant, they just need to pay extra-attention to the road. According to USA Today, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists urges pregnant women to always buckle up with a lap and shoulder belt, keep air bags turned on, and keep 10 inches between the steering wheel and their breastbones. And pregnant passengers should move front seats back as far as possible or sit in back seats, says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
No matter which trimester you're in, just keep reminding yourself that you're carrying precious cargo!
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Image of pregnant woman driving courtesy of Shutterstock.