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Better Way to Protect Unborn in Car Crashes?

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A recent traffic accident in my area resulted in a sad story, taking the life of a pregnant 23-year-old woman and the baby she was expecting within weeks. But it’s possible the outcome could have been different, as the driver sustained only minor injuries.

News reports say it happened when the CUV driven by the woman’s fiancée was cut off by another vehicle on the expressway, causing him to lose control, strike a utility pole and flip several times. The woman, who wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, was ejected from the vehicle. Her baby, born at the scene, was rushed to a hospital and later died.

Hearing the news, a male friend of mine was critical of the woman for not wearing a seatbelt. My response was if you’ve never been pregnant, you have no idea how difficult that can be. Plus, many moms worry a seatbelt will do more harm than good to an unborn child in an accident.

That started me wondering, in an era where the auto industry now has advanced vehicle technology that can warn drivers when they are falling asleep or straying into another lane or traveling too close to the car in front, why isn’t there a better way to protect expectant mothers and their precious cargo.

This is no idle worry. Research indicates about 300-1,000 unborn babies are killed annually in vehicle crashes, but the number is inexact because not all states collect such data.

Ford Motor is concerned about the matter as well and beginning this fall will include in its owner’s manual specific information to help pregnant women properly buckle-up.

In a story reported by Ward's in December, the auto maker said it was developing this information using data gathered from a 3-year research program under way at Virginia Tech and Wake Forest University’s School of Biomedical Engineering and Science (SBES).

Researchers have created a virtual pregnant model for simulated crash tests thanks to a grant from Ford. Stefan Duma, who heads SBES, shares Ford’s urgency, noting the fetal fatality rate in vehicle crashes is four times that of victims between infancy and four years of age.

Duma’s team is working to determine how the forces created by vehicle impacts might injure developing babies, but he warns the auto industry is 15 years away from new technology that will help protect the unborn in car accidents.

Stephen Rouhana, senior technical leader-Ford Passive Safety Research and Advanced Engineering, who also is working on the project, says while it’s too early to design seatbelts based on new findings, pregnant women should continue to wear them.

He recommends the lap belt be worn below the belly and the upper belt should rest between the breasts. Additionally, the seatback should be upright.

Rouhana says while Ford is hoping current research will lead to pregnancy-friendly safety devices that will help reduce fetal fatalities, accident-avoidance technology currently being developed by the auto industry will make a difference as well.

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Drew Winter

Drew Winter is Editor-in-Chief of WardsAuto World magazine and a Senior Editor at WardsAuto.com. He was won numerous awards for his work in both print and digital media and has been...

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Tom Murphy is executive editor of WardsAuto World magazine, with an emphasis on technology and suppliers. He leads selection of the Ward’s 10 Best Engines and Ward’s 10 Best Interiors...
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