Wheelchair Transportation Safety Standards

For a table providing quick reference to the different standards click here.

Upon recognizing the transportation safety problem for the increasing number of travelers in wheelchairs and the lack of forthcoming government legislation to address this issue, national and international efforts were initiated in the mid-1980s to develop voluntary equipment standards.  In the United States, these efforts began with the formation of the Restraint Systems Task Group of the Society of Automotive Engineers’ Adaptive Devices Subcommittee (SAE ADSC).  Internationally, standards were initiated in Working Group 6 of International Standards Organization (ISO) Technical Committee 173, Subcommittee (TC173 SC1).  The initial efforts targeted wheelchair tiedown and occupant restraint systems (WTORS) that will offer a comparable level of occupant restraint and crash protection to that available to occupants who use the manufacturer-installed and federally-regulated belt restraint systems.  After more than a decade of work, this activity culminated with publication of the SAE Recommended Practice J2249 Wheelchair Tiedowns and Occupant Restraint Systems for Use in Motor Vehicles (SAE J2249), and subsequently by a similar international standard, ISO 10542, Parts 1 and 2.

As the WTORS standards were nearing completion, it became apparent to the members of these SAE and ISO standard development groups that the vehicle seat is a critical part of an effective occupant restraint system, and that a significant portion of the occupant protection problem for occupants seated in wheelchairs lies in the wide variation in designs of manual and powered wheelchairs, which have been developed without consideration for their use as seats in motor vehicles.  Therefore, efforts in the mid-1990s were directed toward developing the first standards to address issues and features of wheelchairs relative to their use as seats in motor vehicles.  In the United States this effort moved from the SAE ADSC to a subcommittee of the Standards Committee on Wheelchairs, known as the RESNA Subcommittee on Wheelchairs and Transportation, or SOWHAT.  The result was the completion of Section 19 of ANSI/RESNA Wheelchair Standards/Volume 1, Wheelchairs for Use as Seats in Motor Vehicles, in May 2000 (American National Standards Institute).  Wheelchairs that comply with this new standard are referred to as WC19 wheelchairs.  Subsequently, ISO published a similar standard, ISO 7176-19.

RESNA’s SOWHAT became a RESNA committee and is now referred to as RESNA COWHAT. One of the most important activities recently completed by COWHAT is the publication of an updated version of Volume 4 of the ANSI/RESNA Wheelchair Standards: Wheelchairs and Transportation.  Volume 4 brings all standards and supporting documents related to wheelchair transportation safety into one published document.  Volume 4 was first published in December 2012, with the latest update published in December 2017 and contains the following standards:

  • WC10, Wheelchair containment and occupant retention systems for use in large accessible transit vehicles: systems for rearward-facing passengers
  • WC18 - a revised and updated version of SAE J2249Wheelchair Tiedown and Occupant Restraint Systems for Use in Motor Vehicles
  • WC19, Wheelchairs for Use as Seats in Motor Vehicles
  • WC20, Wheelchair Seating Systems for Use in Motor Vehicles

It also contains documents that provide specifications and engineering drawings for equipment used in the test methods of these standards, including the surrogate wheelchair used for WTORS testing, the surrogate wheelchair tiedown and occupant restraint (SWTORS) used for wheelchair testing, and the surrogate wheelchair frame (SWCF) used for seating system testing.  To download these drawing packages, click here.

To download a high resolution version of the Volume 4 Wheelchair Transportation Safety symbol click here:


For information about participating in the ANSI/RESNA standards process visit the RESNA Technical Standards Board website.

Standards Resources