As more and more wheelchair users become independent and have active work, school, and social lives, they have a larger presence in our communities. This is a positive trend, because it is indicates rising social and economic status and because being visible breaks down stereotypes and attitudinal barriers. However, transportation safety concerns arise for wheelchair users who lead on-the-go lifestyles. This article will shed some light on the complicated and often technical topic of wheelchair transportation safety.
If you are a wheelchair user, and you remain in your wheelchair while riding in riding in vehicles, ask yourself the following questions:
If your wheelchair has the WC19 logo on it - great!
A WC19-compliant wheelchair has features that make it easier to secure with a 4-point strap-type tiedowns. A WC19 wheelchair is designed so that the person securing straps can do so easily and with one hand. The wheelchair has also passed a standardized crash or sled test, and has survived with little or no structural damage. Wheelchairs that have passed standardized tests have proven their ability to withstand the forces of a 30-mph/20-g change in velocity--the same crash pulse that all automotive equipment must survive.
Part of the requirement of the WC19 standard is labeling the wheelchair and the 4 securement points so that it can be clearly recognized as read for use as a seat in transportation vehicles. The manufacturer can provide more information about how the wheelchair performed in testing.
Wheelchairs that are not WC19 compliant or ISO 7176-19 compliant have not been tested as to their performance when used as seats in moving vehicles. An up-to-date listing of all WC19-compliant wheelchairs can be found on the Crash Tested Products List webpage.
Several national and international working groups have developed industry standards for transit wheelchairs and wheelchair occupant restraint systems (seat belts for wheelchair users). RESNA, (the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America) and ANSI (the American National Standards Institute) have collaborated to create design, performance, testing and labeling requirements for wheelchairs used in transportation.
While these standards represent great improvement in safety for people using wheelchairs as seats and transportation, complying with standards is voluntary for manufacturers. Manufacturers are not required to comply with standards or produce wheelchairs that meet them. Thus, it is critical that consumers choose wheelchairs carefully if they plan to use them as seats in motor vehicles.
Choosing WC19-compliant wheelchair will reduce a wheelchair user’s risk of injury in the event of a crash. However, it is important to bear in mind that replacing or modifying any component of a transit wheelchair may invalidate the wheelchair’s status.
Wheelchair users who have custom or aftermarket seating systems or who use devices mounted on their wheelchairs need to carefully consider the safety of using such devices during transit.
A new RESNA standard, WC20, was recently published and allows the independent crash testing of wheelchair seats and backs so that they can be inserted in WC19 wheelchair frames with confidence.
The ADA requires all public buses and paratransit vehicles to be equipped with 2 wheelchair stations and the securement straps needed to tie down the wheelchair to the floor of the vehicle. Privately owned vans equipped for wheelchair users should also have these tiedown straps or a crash-tested docking system.
Securing a wheelchair can be time consuming. Wheelchair users who ride the bus may encounter pressure from the driver or other passengers to forego securing a wheelchair to the floor of the bus in the interest of time. However, failing to secure the wheelchair is a very dangerous practice. A wheelchair that is not secured to the floor can become a flying object in the event of a crash. Even in normal driving, when buses swerve or stop too suddenly, a wheelchair can tip or slide out of place and causing injury to the rider or other passengers. Wheelchair riders need to feel confident in asking that their wheelchair be properly secured before the bus moves.
Wheelchair occupant restraint systems are just as important as tiedown systems. People who ride seated in their wheelchairs often lack the strength and mobility to transfer from their chairs into a standard vehicle seat. In a crash situation, wheelchair riders may similarly be unable to grab and hold onto safety bars or other safety equipment in the vehicle. Therefore, in the event of a crash or even just a sudden stop, the occupant restraint system may be the only thing preventing the user from being ejected out of the wheelchair.
Caution! A wheelchair rider's pelvic positioning belt is not the same or equivalent to an occupant restraint belt!
Positioning belts are only intended to provide postural support. These belts are NOT designed to withstand the forces of an impact. Coming in contact with the interior of a vehicle or being ejected is the most common cause of injury and death in a motor vehicle accident. The wheelchair occupant restraint system is crucial for wheelchair transportation safety.
As with tiedown systems, occupant restraint systems take time to secure. All public buses and paratransit vehicles, as well as private cars outfitted for wheelchairs, are equipped with vehicle-mounted lap and shoulder restraints. Privately owned vans should be outfitted for 3-point occupant restraint belts. The wheelchair rider will often require assistance to use and adjust the occupant safety restraint. Wheelchair users should insist on the use of these occupant restraint systems, even if they feel pressured not to do so by the driver or other passengers.
Vehicle-mounted occupant restraint systems do not always fit every body shape and size and wheelchair design. If you are larger or smaller than average, or have a very tall or very short wheelchair, chances are good that vehicle-mounted occupant restraint belts will need to be adjusted to fit properly. Belts that fit poorly do not effectively prevent injury. A properly fitting pelvic belt will lay low on the pelvis, near the junction of the thighs and abdomen, and a properly fitting shoulder belt will cross the middle of the shoulder.
Do not place the seatbelts over the top of wheelchair armrests and/or side splashguards. Doing this will put the lap belt too high and in contact with your soft abdomen, which can increase the risk of serious injuries in a crash.
Good Belt Fit
Wheelchair riders with tilt-in-space wheelchairs should sit as upright as possible when traveling so that that the torso belt fits snugly against their collar and breast bones to restrain forward movement of the upper body.
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