Car Safety for Pregnant Women, Babies, and Children
Frequently Asked Questions: Pregnancy
Although your fetus is protected inside your body, you should wear a lap and shoulder belt every time you travel while you are pregnant for the best protection—even in the final weeks of pregnancy. You and your fetus are much more likely to survive a car crash if you are buckled in.
When wearing a seat belt, follow these rules:
- Buckle the lap belt below your belly so that it fits snugly across your hips and pelvic bone.
- Place the shoulder belt across your chest (between your breasts) and over the mid-portion of your collar bone (away from your neck).
- Never place the shoulder belt under your arm or behind your back.
- Pull any slack (looseness) out of the belt.
- If you are in an accident, seek medical attention right away, even if you are not injured.
Follow these tips if your car has air bags:
- Keep 10 inches between the steering wheel and your breastbone.
- If the car has an air bag “on/off” switch, check to be sure it is turned to “on.”
- As your belly grows, you may not be able to keep as much space between you and the steering wheel. If the car has a tilt steering wheel, make sure it is angled toward your breastbone, not your belly or head.
All 50 states have laws requiring the use of child safety seats for infants and children at different ages. In 48 states, there are laws requiring the use of booster seats for children who have outgrown their safety seats. Go to http://www.ghsa.org/html/stateinfo/laws/childsafety_laws.html to find out the laws for your state. In most states, you can be stopped for a child seat violation as the only reason.
You cannot take your newborn home from the hospital without a car seat. Plan to have the car seat at least 3 weeks before your due date so you will have time to install it correctly and learn how to buckle the baby in safely.
All car seats for children should be used in the back seat of the car—never in the front seat. Air bags in the front seat can cause serious injury to children. Until they reach age 13 years, children should always ride in the back seat.
- Rear-facing car seat—In a rear-facing car seat, the baby is turned to face the back windshield of the car. Infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car seat until they are 2 years of age or until they reach the highest weight and height allowed by their car seat’s maker.
- Forward-facing car seat—A forward-facing car seat faces the front windshield of the car. Toddlers and preschoolers who have outgrown the height and weight limit of the rear-facing seat should use a forward-facing seat.
- Booster seat—A booster seat raises and positions your child so that the vehicle’s lap and shoulder belts fit properly. Your child should use a booster seat until the car seat belts fit properly. This usually occurs when the child is between the ages of 8 years and 12 years and is at least 4 feet 9 inches in height.
- Know whether your car has the LATCH system. LATCH stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children. Instead of seat belts, special anchors hold the seat in place. If your car and car seat do not have the LATCH system, you will need to use seat belts to install the car seat.
- Try locking and unlocking the buckle while you are in the store. Try changing the lengths of the straps.
- Read the labels to find out the seat’s height and weight limits.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers parents a five-star rating system on its web site (http://www.nhtsa.gov/nhtsa_eou) based on how easy certain car seats are to use.
Do not buy a used car seat if you know it has been in a car crash. Also, used car seats may be missing parts or instructions. Avoid a used car seat that looks old or worn or is missing labels with the model number and maker’s name. Keep in mind that car seats have expiration dates. You can check the expiration date for any car seat on the maker’s web site.
After you buy the seat, register it with the maker using the card that comes with the seat, or register it online with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at https://www.nhtsa.gov/equipment/car-seats-and-booster-seats#registration. Registering your car seat allows you to get updates and recall notices.
You can take your car and the seat to a car seat inspection station. These stations can check whether your car seat is installed correctly after you have installed it yourself. Find a station near you at www.safercar.gov.
Distracted driving means doing something else while driving that takes your hands off the steering wheel or your eyes or mind off the road:
- Using a cell phone
- Feeding a child or picking up a toy
- Using a navigation system or changing a DVD
Parents who are distracted while driving with children in the car are more likely to be in a crash. Wait to send a text or make a call until your car is parked.
Fetus: The stage of human development beyond 8 completed weeks after fertilization.
If you have further questions, contact your obstetrician–gynecologist.
FAQ018. Copyright March 2019 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
This information is designed as an educational aid to patients and sets forth current information and opinions related to women’s health. It is not intended as a statement of the standard of care, nor does it comprise all proper treatments or methods of care. It is not a substitute for a treating clinician’s independent professional judgment. Read ACOG’s complete disclaimer.