Why is it important to secure my wheelchair if other vehicle occupants are not restrained?

Some people question why their wheelchairs need to be secured, and they are supposed to use belt restraints, when other people in the vehicle do not use belt restraints. While transit buses and large school that may not have belt-type restraints, the seats are attached to the vehicle. In a crash, an unsecured wheelchair would be an injury hazard to both the person in the wheelchair and the other occupants in the vehicle, just as an unanchored vehicle seat would be a hazard too. This is especially true for power wheelchairs that can weigh more than 300 lb.

In the school bus environment, it may seem like students are traveling without occupant restraint. However, school buses are designed using the concept of “compartmentalization”, where the use of closely spaced, high-backed padded seats provides protection in frontal crashes. Since students using wheelchairs don’t have compartmentalization, and may be close to other wheelchairs with rigid protruding components, using belt-type occupant restraints can help achieve a comparable level of crash protection as those protected by compartmentalization. Fortunately, FMVSS 222 now addresses the safety of the wheelchair-seated student by requiring forward-facing wheelchair stations equipped with four-point, strap-type tiedowns and three-point belt-type occupant restraint systems.

For large transit buses, the availability of rear-facing wheelchair stations provides a similar level of protection to other bus riders not using belt restraints. However, these types of stations do not offer comparable protection in smaller vehicles where crashes can be more severe because of their smaller mass.