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Safety For The Pregnant Driver And Her Unborn Child



23rd May, 2007

Volvo Car recommends that all passengers be correctly restrained, including pregnant women

If a pregnant woman uses her safety belt correctly, the foetal injury risk is reduced significantly.

  • This knowledge is directly based on Volvo Cars' research into car safety for unborn babies and their mothers.
  • Volvo Cars has developed a virtual crash test dummy to simulate the effect of a frontal impact on the mother and unborn baby.
  • Car safety for unborn children is an area that is not well documented because foetal injury and death are often not revealed in crash statistics.
  • For the unborn baby to remain unharmed in a car crash, it is important to discuss safety measures for the pregnant woman.
  • The mother should always wear a safety belt; yet not all pregnant women do.

Virtual pregnant crash test dummy

Volvo Cars contributes to increasing the awareness of safety for pregnant drivers and knowledge of how to protect their unborn babies. One innovation in this field is a virtual pregnant crash test dummy.

The model can be used to simulate how a pregnant woman moves in a crash and how the foetus moves inside her. The virtual pregnant crash test dummy's proportions correspond to those of an average sized woman in the final stage of pregnancy, approximately week 36.

The virtual crash test dummy is used to simulate impact tests in frontal collisions. "The computer model makes it possible to study in detail how the occupant moves and how the safety belt and airbag affect the woman and the foetus, including surrounding structures," says Lotta Jakobsson, Child Safety Specialist at Volvo Cars. "This means that the engineers can simulate the impact on mother and unborn baby in collisions at different speeds and use the model to test for example safety belt designs under development."

Pregnant women should always wear a safety belt

It is always better to wear a safety belt than not to and pregnant women, like everyone else, should make sure to always buckle up correctly. Here is how:

  • Remove bulky clothes so that the safety belt can be placed as close to the body as possible.
  • Pull the lap belt over the thighs, lying flat under the tummy
  • Make sure the over-shoulder belt is positioned between the breasts
  • Pull tight

The positioning of the safety belt is important to ensure the occupant is restrained over the body's stronger areas - like the upper torso and pelvis - thus protecting the weaker parts of the body, such as the soft abdomen containing the fragile foetus. Studies on the virtual pregnant crash test dummy show that the driver airbag offers protection for both the mother and the foetus.

Common injuries for unborn babies and their mothers

Injuries unique to pregnant occupants involved in crashes include placental abruption, uterine rupture or laceration and direct foetal injury. The most common type of injury is a separated placenta.

The placenta then becomes partially or completely detached, meaning that the baby can not get enough oxygen and nutrients, which can be fatal for the unborn baby.

"Our research shows that the best protection for pregnant women and their unborn babies is for the mother to wear her three-point safety belt and to wear it properly. This reduces the foetal injury risk significantly," says Lotta Jakobsson.

How to fasten the safety belt when you are pregnant

  • First adjust the seat so you can reach the pedals comfortably with as much distance between your tummy and the steering wheel as possible
  • Pull the lap belt over your thighs, buckle it in and pull tight. Make sure the lap belt does not run across the tummy, but lies as flat as possible under the curve
  • Position the torso belt across your chest, between the breasts to the side of the belly and pull tight
  • Never tuck the shoulder belt under your arm or behind your back - that can hurt both you and the baby

Potential injury risks for unborn babies in car crashes

Non-fatal but possible long-term consequences

  • Separated placenta (most documented)
    Foetal distress
  • Early delivery
  • Breathing and nervous system disorders
    Direct foetal injury
  • Arm and leg injuries


  • Death of mother
  • Separated placenta
  • Ruptured uterus
  • Baby skull fracture

The virtual pregnant crash test dummy

The finite element model known as the virtual pregnant crash test dummy was developed by Volvo Cars, the first dummy of its kind.

The model contains layer upon layer with detailed information about the uterus, placenta, amniotic fluid and foetus in approximately the 36th week of pregnancy. The dummy can be positioned in any car model and simulate collisions at different speeds.

This has brought Volvo Cars to the important conclusion that pregnant women must always wear the safety belt and to wear it correctly.

Volvo Cars has also concluded that pregnant women are better protected in frontal impacts with an airbag in the steering wheel than without the airbag.

Other Volvo content: here.

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