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Docs: Pregnant women and kids should wear seat belts

Date Posted: 2008-03-13

Seat belts can save lives, and a new report compiled by two prominent Japanese medical groups has debunked the notion pregnant women should not wear them.

The Japan Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology now say wearing seat belts could save their patients lives and prevent miscarriages. The groups have calculated more than 10,000 premature births and miscarriages occur every year simply because the pregnant women didn’t wear seat belts. They note traffic accidents involving unbelted pregnant women also account for 40 deaths each year.

Seat belts are required to be worn by all vehicle occupants, including children, but there’s an exemption in the Road Traffic Law for pregnant women. Doctors, including Hiroyuki Yoshikawa, say people are misinterpreting the law, thinking it means women shouldn’t wear the belts. Yoshikawa, a professor at the University of Tsukuba, was instrumental in creating the new report. The intent of the law, says the Obstetrics and Gynecology professor, is to not use seat belts only when there is a potential danger to the pregnant woman’s life.

Other than that, Yoshikawa says, seat belts should be worn. He says even doctors are often confused about how important seat belts are. Doctor Hiroshi Murao of Okinawa’s Nambu Medical Center echoes that. “If the seat belt is a standard three-part type that also holds the shoulder in place,” he says, “and if it is used properly, there isn’t a need to worry about possible pressure on the stomach during a crash.” The belts, he says, should be over both shoulder and waist, but not the stomach.

International studies show more than a dozen countries, including the United States, require pregnant women to wear seat belts just like all other vehicle occupants. Those studies also support the Japanese report, showing fatality rates among pregnant women rise when seat belts are not worn.

Doctors and law enforcement officials emphasize children should definitely be strapped into their seats, and not be permitted to move about the vehicle interior. Lap and shoulder belts should always be in place, noting kids are more susceptible to injuries in even minor crashes.

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