A New Transit Wheelchair Standard: ANSI/RESNA WC19

News Release: 6/22/2000

A new national wheelchair standard that addresses the design and performance of wheelchairs when used as seats in motor vehicles has recently been approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). According to Peter Axelson, chairman of the ANSI/RESNA wheelchair standards subcommittee, this new voluntary standard is one of many national wheelchair standards, but this is the first standard first to deal with the use of wheelchairs in motor-vehicle transportation.

The new standard is based on the fact that the most effective and common method for securing a wide range of wheelchair types and sizes in both public and private vehicles, is a four-point, strap-type tiedown system. Thus, one of the primary requirements of the new standard is that a "transit" wheelchair (i.e., a wheelchair designed for occupancy in a motor vehicle according to WC19) be provided with four easily accessible tiedown points for facing-forward securement in a motor vehicle. The standard further requires that the wheelchair and securement points be dynamically crash tested at 30 mph with an appropriate size crash test dummy seated in the wheelchair. The wheelchair may also be designed to be secured by other more automatic tiedown methods, but it must provide for four-point securement to comply with the new standard.

In addition to addressing the dynamic strength and crashworthiness of wheelchairs, the new standard aims at improving the ease by which a wheelchair can be secured using a four-point tiedown system, by requiring the four tiedown points be easily accessible using hook-type attachment hardware. Wheelchairs that comply with the standard will therefore not only make riding in a motor vehicle safer for the wheelchair user, but it will make it much easier and quicker for those involved in securing the wheelchairs in public transit vehicles.

While the primary goal of the standard is to reduce the potential for injury to wheelchair-seated occupants in the event of a vehicle impact, the standard also addresses wheelchair performance related to normal vehicle operating conditions. For example, the size and turning radius of a wheelchair may affect the ease of entering and exiting a motor vehicle, and maneuvering inside the vehicle into a forward-facing position at a designated tide down station. Accordingly, the standard requires that information regarding a wheelchair's size and turning radius be provided in the manufacturer's presale literature. Also, the lateral stability of a wheelchair can affect the comfort and security of the user during travel, so the standard requires measurement and disclosure of lateral movement in a wheelchair tilt test.

Of importance to the seating clinicians and users is that by April, 2002, all wheelchairs in compliance with WC19 shall also provide for anchorage of a pelvic safety belt that meets specific location and strength requirements.

When development of the new standard began over four years ago, very few wheelchairs were designed with concern for occupancy and crashworthiness in motor vehicles. According to Dr. Schneider many wheelchair companies, and all of the larger wheelchair manufacturers, are already designing and crash testing many wheelchair models to the requirements of this new standard. He further notes that it is important to view the new standard in the totality of daily wheelchair functions and uses, and the range of other standards to which all wheelchairs should comply. Wheelchairs must first serve as effective mobility devices and transportation is only one activity that introduces additional unique circumstances and requirements that wheelchairs and wheelchair occupants will experience. Wheelchairs that comply with the new standard will offer improved transportation safety to their users, but, under federal law, compliance with the new standard cannot and should not be used to limit or prevent motor vehicle transportation of wheelchair users.

Additional information on Wheelchair Transportation Safety standards including WC19 can be found on this website.