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Researchers Studying Car Safety for Pregnant Women

The National Traffic and Safety Administration estimates that about 27,000 vehicle drivers and passengers died in auto crashes in 2008. Car accidents are the leading cause of death for pregnant women, but what about the unborn child?

Although the government does not officially monitor the number of fetal deaths in car accidents, different organizations estimate between 300 and thousands of such deaths happen annually. This is four times the number of car accident-related deaths for infants and children up to four years of age. That's why researchers and auto manufacturers are studying how to make car travel safer for pregnant women and prevent fetal deaths.

The first step in this process is finding out what happens to the uterus tissues and placenta during a crash. For this, the School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences at Virginia Tech University - Wake Forest in Blacksburg, VA. completed a research project in which they gathered data on the dimensions of pregnant women and thier tissue compositions at 30 weeks. The study was partially funded by Ford and head by Stefan Duma, the school's Biomedical Engineering department head.

Now, automakers and biomedical researchers are developing a computer-aided model of a pregnant woman. This model will hopefully allow researchers to develop better crash-protection features, such as restraint systems, for expectant mothers.

The force of the accident is what causes most fetal deaths. During the accident, the force causes the placenta to tear away from the uterus, cutting-off the fetus's oxygen. The goal of these studies is to determine how to minimize this force on the uterus and placenta.

The changes won't be immediate. In 2010, Ford is planning to add seat-belt safety instructions for pregnant women to the manuals of its 2011 models. Until then, Duma recommends expecting mothers wear their shoulder and lap belts properly. If a crash occurs, he says that the lap belt across the pelivs is the best safety protection.

Shelly Leeke
South Carolina Injury Lawyer

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