Motor vehicle transportation, whether in private, public, or school-bus vehicles, is vital in today’s society. Ready access to transportation is not only essential for most occupations and education, but also for accessing healthcare providers, religious services, recreation and leisure activities, shopping, voting, and many other community activities and services. As reported by the National Council on Disability, the need for transportation is even greater for individuals who use wheelchairs, including those who are unable to transfer out of their wheelchair when traveling (Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 2002; National Council on Disability, 2005). 

In situations where the wheelchair must function as a motor-vehicle seat, serious concerns arise. Transportation safety and occupant crash-protection studies have shown that a motor vehicle seat is an important part of an occupant-protection system. 

For this reason, wheelchairs that are used as motor vehicle seats must also be designed for this purpose. Wheelchairs prescribed for individuals with the inability to transfer and which will serve as passenger seats in motor vehicles should: 

  • demonstrate that they can be effectively secured and provide occupant support under the same frontal-impact conditions used to test occupant-restraint systems and seats in passenger cars, and child safety seats used by children; 
  • facilitate the proper placement of vehicle-anchored belt restraints; and 
  • have design features that reduce user error in securing the wheelchair by four-point, strap-type tiedowns. When seating systems from a second manufacturer are needed, the seating system (i.e., seat, back support, and attachment hardware) should also demonstrate the ability to provide effective occupant support during frontal crashes and should not interfere with proper use of belt restraints. 


Check out the updated AAP Recommendations for Transporting Children With Special Health Care Needs. May 2019

Check out a 2017 publication regarding research performed by UMTRI and sponsored by the NHTSA on Wheelchair Occupant Studies

Also see a paper submitted to the 2017 Enhanced Safety of Vehicles (ESV) Conference titled:  Assessing the Performance of Steering Wheel Airbags for Drivers Seated in Wheelchair During Frontal Crash Tests

NEW Safety Tip Handouts!

Easy-to-understand educational/training materials for distribution to vehicle modifiers and their clients can now be found here. These materials outline best practices to be used when installing adaptive equipment for drivers and passengers seated in wheelchairs when riding in private vehicles, as well as best practices in the proper use of WTORS.  There are also Safety Tip Sheets being developed for other WTS stakeholder groups, such as wheelchair and WTORS manufacturers, wheelchair prescribers, clinicians, certified driver trainers, rehabilitation tech suppliers, and transit providers.   Please feel free to provide feedback regarding these tip sheets!