Third of heavily pregnant Hong Kong women put themselves at risk by shunning seat belts, study finds

Some who refuse to buckle up believe safety devices will harm the foetus, prompting experts to call for more education

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 October, 2016, 12:02am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 October, 2016, 12:02am

A third of Hong Kong women in the late stage of pregnancy do not fasten their seat belts while travelling in cars, mostly due to a mistaken belief that it harms the baby, a study has found.

Not wearing the safety devices is not only illegal but puts them and their babies in danger.

The study highlighted a serious lack of knowledge among pregnant women on the use of seat belts and the need for more education, the researchers said.

Of 495 pregnant women polled by staff at the obstetrics and gynaecology department of United Christian Hospital in Kwun Tong, 18.2 per cent said they never wore a seat belt.

Some 73 per cent reported using a seat belt in the first trimester of pregnancy, a figure that fell to 70.5 per cent in the second trimester and just 67.1 in the third.

Among those who shunned seat belts, over half said they worried it would harm the foetus or they believed the seat belt was not useful.

Some 90 per cent said putting seat belts over their enlarged bellies caused discomfort, or they were simply lazy or forgetful.

Half of them wrongly believed that pregnant women were exempted from seat belt legislation under the Road Traffic Ordinance.

The findings were published on Friday in the Hong Kong Medical Journal.

Researchers blamed the problem on a lack of information as only 32 per cent of women said they had received information about the use of seat belts. Those at lower education levels were less likely to wear a seat belt before or during pregnancy.

In the case of an accident, the babies are usually hurt as a result of injury to the mother
Obstetrician Dr Kun Ka-yan

The team stressed that correct use of seat belts during pregnancy protected both the woman and her baby, while not buckling up raised the risk of abruptio phacentae – premature separation of the placenta from the uterus, which could kill the baby.

Private obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Kun Ka-yan, who was not involved in the study, said: “Pregnant women must fasten the seat belt at all times, as the risk of not using it is much greater than the risk of harming the baby.

“In the case of an accident, the babies are usually hurt as a result of injury to the mother. It is extremely rare that the baby alone was hurt while the mother was protected by a seat belt.”

Kun urged the government to better educate pregnant women on the importance of wearing seat belts.

He said the belt should cross diagonally over the shoulder, with the lower strap going over the waist or belly of the mother. If the belly was too big and the strap caused discomfort, he suggested heavily pregnant women place the belt below the belly instead of right across it.

Doctors should also educate pregnant women on correct use of seat belts, he added.

Amy Tsui, who is seven months into her pregnancy, said she stopped fastening her seat belt when she was five months pregnant, fearing it would harm the baby. She was asked by a policeman recently to buckle up.

“I thought it was okay for pregnant women not to use seat belts, and my husband drives very slowly,” Tsui said. “No one told me what to do before, and luckily the police officer did not penalise me.”