The five-year study found that being in the second trimester of pregnancy was associated with a ‘substantial risk’ of serious car crash accidents.
Over 500,000 pregnant women from Ontario, Canada were involved in the study.
The authors propose that common features of normal pregnancy – such as nausea, fatigue, insomnia and unintended distraction – might ‘interact with human error’ to increase the risk of serious traffic accidents.
Data from three years before their pregnancy show that women in the study group were involved in 177 crashes a month on average when driving. But when pregnant, in their second trimester they were involved in an average of 252 traffic accidents a month.
This suggests that pregnancy was associated with a 42% increase in the number of serious crashes.
Statistically, around 1 in 50 pregnant women will be involved in a motor vehicle crash at some point during their pregnancy.
Include safe driving in prenatal care
The study found no similar increase of crashes among pregnant women passengers or pedestrians. They also observed no increase in intentional injury, inadvertent falls or self-reported risky behaviours.
The authors have now called for including safe driving awareness in prenatal care guidelines.
One of the authors, Dr Donald Redelmeier, said: ‘The findings primarily emphasise the need to drive more carefully. Even a minor vehicle crash during pregnancy could lead to irreparable consequences for mother and child. These findings underscore the importance of prevention and indicate that good prenatal care includes safe driving.’
Traffic accidents place both mother and unborn child at risk of lifelong injury and death. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of fetal death related to maternal trauma.
The research paper was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ).