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Drunk Driving and Distracted Driving Are Dangerous But What About . . . Pregnant Driving?

June 29, 2014

When a woman receives news that she is pregnant, it can be one of the most exciting times in her life. Most expectant moms are vigilant about curbing bad habits and avoiding behavior that could put their unborn child at risk. If you are pregnant, you might stop smoking and drinking alcohol. However, a new study suggests a risk to pregnant moms that is almost never discussed – driving.

While the dangers associated with drunk driving, distracted driving and drowsy driving are well-known, a new study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal indicates that pregnant driving increases the risk of being involved in a car accident. The study compared accident rates for women while they were pregnant to their accident rates before and after pregnancy.

The study followed the lives of 500,000 women for a period extending from four years prior to their pregnancy until four years after their pregnancy. The accident rate for women in the study prior to pregnancy was 4.5 per 1,000 annually. While the accident rate did not change during the first month or pregnancy, the rate began to climb in the second month of pregnancy.

Once expectant moms were in their fourth month, accident rates peaked at 7.6 per 1,000 per year. To put this higher rate in context, the 7.6 per thousand rate amounts to triple the accident rate of the general population. The researchers conclude that approximately one in fifty expectant mothers will be involved in a traffic accident serious enough to require emergency room treatment. Interestingly, the rate fell to 2.7 per 1,000 annually during the final month of pregnancy, and the rate remained at about this level until the child was born.

The author of the study says that the results are important because women often focus on risks like diet, flying and hot tubs, but the risk posed by an auto accident is far more significant. The researchers suggest that the results of the study are explained by physical, emotional and behavioral factors. After the first month of pregnancy, women often are physically sick with morning sickness and nausea throughout the day. This physical distress accounts for the increase in accident rates in the second month of pregnancy. By the second trimester, women undergo cognitive changes the researchers refer to as "pregnancy brain", which adversely impacts their ability to remain alert and focused.

At first blush, the decline in accident rates during the final month of pregnancy might seem difficult to reconcile with the presumed impact of physical and cognitive changes during earlier stages of pregnancy. However, the researchers suggest that women are so aware of their impending delivery that they compensate for the negative impact of nausea and "pregnancy brain" by exercising extreme caution while driving. The author of the study urges moms to exercise this same heightened level of caution during their entire pregnancy.

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Category: Auto Accidents

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