Driving when pregnant: seat belt and safety

How safe is it to be behind the wheel when you’re pregnant? What are the seat belt rules? When should I stop driving? 

Pregnant person wearing seatbelt

We explain all you need to know about keeping safe on the road when you’re expecting a baby. 

Wearing a seat belt during pregnancy key facts:

  • You should always wear a seatbelt, even if you're pregnant. Not doing so is against the law.

  • Place your seat belt over your right shoulder. Make sure it sits over the breastbone. The lap belt should sit flat on your thighs. 
  • Bump belts are generally safe, make sure you research the best make and model for your car though.
  • Wearing a seatbelt shouldn't hurt your unborn baby.

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What are the pregnancy seat belt rules? 

Seatbelts are the unassuming safety heroes we all take for granted – but their unique shape is thought to have saved more than a million lives since their 1959 introduction. 

The good news for you is there’s no change, which keeps things simple. You must wear a seat belt, as outlined in the Road Traffic Act 1988.

So no exemption – which is good for the safety of both you and your baby.

A doctor can give you an exemption on medical grounds, if needed. If this is you, keep the certificate in your car at all times and don’t forget to let your car insurance provider know too. 

If you ask your GP for an exemption and it’s refused, then a clear reason must be given to you. You’ve also got the option of getting a second opinion. 

This also applies, of course, if you’re sitting in the back seat. You can be fined up to £500 plus three penalty points for not wearing your seat belt, says the government. 

How do I wear a seatbelt when I'm pregnant?

The Royal Society for Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA) advises pregnant women to place the diagonal strap between the breasts, or over the breastbone.

The strap should rest over the shoulder, not the neck.

Your lap belt should sit flat on your thighs, “fitting comfortably beneath the enlarged abdomen”. In other words - over your pelvis, not your bump. 

Your belt should be worn as snugly as possible. That’s so any sudden force is absorbed by your body's frame, including the hips, rather than your much more vulnerable abdomen.

ROSPA urges avoidance of 'lap-only-belts' as they could mean serious injury to an unborn child if there’s sudden deceleration.

“Mother and unborn child are both safer in a collision,” it says, “if a lap-and-diagonal seatbelt is worn correctly.”

This sounds like clear, unambiguous advice. Any serious car accident could mean greater pregnancy complications. 

Am I insured to drive when pregnant?

If you’re already insured to drive your car, then yes, you should be fine to get behind the wheel. 

When you’re pregnant you’ll likely feel more tired more often which can affect your concentration. So, your energy levels are reduced.

None of this should stop you driving. But it does mean you need to take it easier. 

That means more stops and thinking about the distraction levels you may have to cope with to feel comfortable and focused.

If driving gets difficult and you can’t rely on regular driving support, then public transport or a taxi is probably the next best solution. 

If you’ve serious health problems why not ask if there’s a hospital Patient Transport Service?

Usually this is a non-emergency service for people who need special support getting to healthcare appointments, though there’s usually a set eligibility criteria.    

When should you stop driving when pregnant?

It’s completely down to you. Your good judgement should tell you when enough is enough. It may depend on the car you’re driving also. 

If your car has a less than ideal driving position you may find your legs pushed upwards – which isn’t good for your belly.

Ideally there should be around 20cm-plus space between the steering wheel and you. Try to avoid leaning forward and relax into your seat.

Keep your seat as upright as you can. This is to avoid the lap belt applying any pressure on the uterus. 

If you’re travelling for over four hours, there’s a risk of developing deep vein thrombosis or DVT. If you’re driving or a passenger in a car for more than four hours:

  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Try to avoid travelling for long periods if you can. If you have to, try to share the driving with someone else.
  • Stop for regular breaks and pack snacks like fruit and nuts to keep you going. This could help to stop the nausea associated with pregnancy. Try and stop every 90 minutes to move around. A few leg exercises - like flexing your ankles - will help. This is particularly important if you’re the driver.
  • If you can, adjust your steering wheel. Angle it slightly towards your breastbone rather than your belly.

The NHS suggests compression stockings for longer car journeys for some women. These help increase blood flow in your legs and help to prevent blood clots.

In some cases compression socks can help cut the risk of varicose veins. Your GP should be able to give you lots of good advice here.


Should I drive with morning sickness?

Hyperemesis (morning sickness) is common in the early stages of pregnancy and sometimes you just have to pull over. Trying to keep food and liquids down isn’t easy when you feel queasy in a moving vehicle.

But sometimes driving a car is better than sitting as a passenger. The reasoning isn’t super-scientific but it’s partly thought to do with how our brains sees control. 

When we’re driving, we have more autonomy about what happens next. We’re not suddenly surprised by something as we’re always looking ahead.   

But if you’re the map reader or passenger, try and reduce that puke feeling by knowing your own remedy: ginger and mint products, possibly. Or smoothies rather than solid food.

Your GP may have already helped you with some ideas. So, keep that glovebox topped up with what works for you.

Driving when pregnant – how do I stay safe?

Before we go through some options, it's worth noting that you know your body best and what it’s comfortable with.

Driving is considered safe for pregnant women, though consider limiting your driving to a sensible level as you go through your pregnancy. 

 

1. Driving position 

First, try making it easier on yourself by looking at your driving position. Can you adjust the steering wheel upwards a bit more? Does the bottom of the steering wheel encroach on your stomach? 

Also, if your car’s steering wheel airbag deploys in a crash, it’s better the impact is well away from your abdomen.

 

2. Consider your right shoulder

What about your right shoulder? On some cars it’s possible to raise or lower the shoulder position of the seatbelt.

This part of the belt should lie flat across your shoulder before lying across the centre of your chest.   

 

3. Will there be any distractions?


Think about who’s going to be in the car with you – and their distraction potential. So, try to keep stress levels down and choose your co-travelling companions with care.

Admittedly options around this can be limited if there’s a number of other children to organise already.

But regardless of our demands, driving is energy-demanding and intensive, don’t forget – and distraction is a major cause of road accidents.

 

4. Take plenty of breaks

Breaks – don’t forget to have plenty of them. Energy-giving foods are a must. When you pull over try doing some exercises.

The NHS advice suggests “flexing and rotating your feet and wiggling your toes”. This keeps the blood flowing through your legs “and reduces any stiffness and discomfort”. 

 

5. Stay hydrated


Don’t forget to hydrate regularly. Fatigue and dizziness are common in pregnancy and a handy spray water bottle isn’t a bad idea.

Even better with some ice in it to keep you cooler for longer. Focus on your head, neck and wrists.

 

6. Keep an eye on air circulation. 

The increased body warmth from a baby plus hormonal changes could increase your body's temperature, so find your car’s air-con button and use it.

What should pregnant women wear when driving?

Think light and loose here.

Some coats and jackets can be heavy and may make you uncomfortably hot if you’re behind the wheel for longer periods. It’s also harder to move about freely behind the wheel. 

Lots of pregnant women find their legs get sore or achy. But as we mentioned, compression socks help circulation and so reduce the discomfort. It could also reduce your chances of getting DVT.

The blood vessels around the pelvis too can also get pressed upon by your growing baby. So consider wearing loose or elasticated trousers.


Are pregnancy ‘bump belts’ safe? 

Generally, yes. A well-designed pregnancy seat belt adjuster is designed to sit across your thighs – which is how your seat belt should be positioned, ideally. 

If your standard seat belt lap strap goes across the belly button, then it’s probably too high and a ‘bump belt’ may be worth trying. 

There are quite a few designs on the market so it’s worth reading the online reviews before buying. Make sure you can return it if it doesn’t work out.

Most are easy to install and in most cases you shouldn’t feel their presence. 

However there are reports of some loosening quickly.

Also, some work better in some car brands or models than others. If your car seats have an extendable support feature, a bump belt might be more difficult to install. 

But if a ‘bump belt’ allows you to drive for longer and more comfortably, they may be worth it. Many like them. 

 

Can a seatbelt hurt my unborn baby?

If worn correctly, you shouldn’t have any problems. And remember, it’s illegal to not wear a seat belt in the front or back seat of any car in the UK. 

If you travel without buckling up then the risk of injury is much higher.

According to government research, a crash at 30 mph with an unrestrained passenger, “can hit whatever is in front of them with a force of up to 35 – 60 times their own body weight”. 

Seatbelts also ensure crash forces are shared right across the stronger areas of our body – specifically pelvic bone, shoulders and chest – in any accident.


Other things to consider

When you’re pregnant you may need to adjust your mirrors for a revised seating position. Some cars can ‘remember’ your individual seating position with a memory button. Does your car have this feature?

Normally there are no legal issues about driving after you’ve given birth but check with your doctor first.

Remember, you’ve just crossed the finish line after a nine-month marathon.

If you’ve had a cesarean then you should definitely avoid driving for at least six weeks. At least that gives you time to figure out how to install your baby’s car seat.

Being pregnant shouldn’t stop you from living your life and needing to drive might be a part of that.

But the closer you get to your due date, it might be more sensible to rely on support from family and friends where possible.