(COLORADO) — Recent data from the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) showed only 32% of pregnant drivers are wearing their seat belts correctly.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of fetal injury and death in the U.S. An analysis of 1,712 prenatal seat belt checks by the UCHealth EMS/Hudson Center for Prenatal Vehicle Safety found only 32% of pregnant vehicle occupants were using seat belts correctly.

“Seat belts are our first line of defense in a vehicle in the event of a crash,” said Darrell Lingk, director of the Highway Safety Office at CDOT. “However, their effectiveness hinges on being worn correctly, which can be complex given the unique physical changes that occur during pregnancy.”

CDOT said NHTSA and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend the following method of seat belt fit.

Seat Belt Fit:

  • Lap belt placed low under the curve of the belly and resting on the hips.
  • Shoulder belt to the side of the belly and diagonally across the center of the chest.
  • Shoulder belt crossing the middle of the clavicle, resting on the shoulder.

Vehicle seat Adjustment:

  • Seat back upright, or as upright as the pregnant person can tolerate.
  • Seat adjusted back so the belly does not press against the steering wheel and there is at least 10 inches of space between the center of the steering wheel and the chest.
  • Seat also close enough so the pregnant driver can press the brake pedal to the floor. 

Steering Wheel:

  • Tilted so the airbag is directed towards the chest, not the belly or face.
  • Steering column distance adjusted so driver can comfortably reach the top of the steering wheel while providing space for airbag deployment.
A graphic showing the proper way to use a seat belt while pregnant
Courtesy: Colorado Department of Transportation

UCHealth EMS offers seat belt checks for pregnant people at all car seat and CPR-education appointments.

CDOT said if all pregnant vehicle occupants wore their seat belts correctly, motor vehicle crash-related fetal loss could decline by more than 50%.