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At Least One in 100 Babies in the U.S. Are Involved in a Car Crash While in the Womb, Say Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Injury Research and Control

PITTSBURGH, September 16, 2002 — At least one out of 100 babies born in the United States will have been involved in a police-reported car crash while in the womb, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Injury Research and Control (CIRCL) report in today's Injury Prevention, a publication of the British Medical Journal Publishing Group.

The study also found that trimester status has only minor bearing on the risk of being injured in a crash; pregnant women involved in a crash have similar characteristics as non-pregnant women regarding seatbelt use and seat position; and that pregnant women involved in crashes are more likely to be transported to the hospital for less serious injuries.

The researchers obtained their data from the National Center for Statistics and Analysis of the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration. Using figures from police-reported crashes, the researchers found that on average, almost 33,000 pregnant women were involved in a car crash every year between 1995 and 1999.

"These results clearly demonstrate that more research needs to be done in order to protect both pregnant women and their fetuses," said Harold B. Weiss, M.P.H., Ph.D., associate director of CIRCL, assistant professor of neurological surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and lead author of this study.

"Furthermore, little research has focused on longer-term developmental outcomes of infants and children who had previously been involved in car crashes while in the womb."

Pregnant and non-pregnant women between the ages of 15 to 39 were compared by age, whether or not they were driving at the time of the accident, seat-belt use and treatment received after the crash. Belt use and seating position were examined according to the woman's trimester.

The highest rate of car crashes occurred among younger women, those between the ages of 20 to 29, who are in their peak childbearing years.

Although the rate of car crashes reported from this data among pregnant women is roughly half that of women who are not reported as pregnant in the same age range, the researchers caution that early pregnancy may not be known or pregnancy status accurately reported from the data system. Other research by the authors was cited suggesting that pregnant women probably have similar crash rates as non-pregnant women of childbearing ages.

The study also references a National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration study that showed between 1975 and 1990 the number of women drivers involved in fatal car crashes have soared by more than 60 percent, primarily because women are driving more. Given the tens of thousands of babies involved in car crashes and the possible impact of these crashes on fetal development and subsequent child health, Dr. Weiss and co-author Stephen Strotmeyer, M.P.H., stress that more needs to be done to track, understand and prevent pregnancy-related car crashes.

CIRCL is an interdisciplinary, comprehensive program involving multiple departments in the School of Medicine, the Graduate School of Public Health, and the schools of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, Social Work and Nursing at the University of Pittsburgh. The center conducts injury control research, disseminates information on injuries, provides training for health care professionals and informs the public and community leaders on injury control measures. It is one of 11 centers in the United States to receive an official designation as an injury control research center by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For more information about CIRCL, please go to http://www.circl.pitt.edu/home/.

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