Most pregnant Coloradans are wearing their seat belts incorrectly, according to new study

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Traffic on Highway 36 between Lyons and Pinewood on August 30, 2023.

Only 32 percent of pregnant drivers in Colorado wear their seat belt correctly, according to a new study from Car Seats Colorado, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and the Colorado State Patrol.

“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, in a statement Wednesday. “However, their effectiveness hinges on being worn correctly, which can be complex given the unique physical changes that occur during pregnancy.”

The study found that many pregnant people put the belt over their belly when they get in the car, instead of settling it lower towards the bottom of the belly. Pregnant drivers should also tilt the steering wheel up toward their chest, not their belly, and adjust the seat to keep a gap between their belly and the wheel.

Rates of car crashes have gone up statewide. In 2022, 745 people died in traffic collisions, a 57 percent increase from 10 years ago (those figures also include pedestrians and cyclists).

According to research cited in the study, wearing seat belts properly while pregnant can reduce harmful fetal outcomes by 84 percent during a crash.

“For prenatal patients, motor vehicle crashes lead to higher rates of premature rupture of membranes, placental abruption, premature birth, and low birth weight,” said Community Outreach Captain for UCHealth Emergency Medical Services Gregory Colton in a statement.

The study said that if all pregnant people wore their seat belts correctly, the number of fetal deaths due to car crashes could be cut in half.