What happens to a wheelchair user when the wheelchair accessible public conveyance that they are in gets into an accident, or just makes a real sharp turn or sudden stop? Nothing real good, that’s what!
The issue of safety when transporting a wheelchair user has been around for as long as accessible transportation, maybe even longer. How do you keep a person who is wrapped in metal and passengers around them as safe as possible within a vehicle and even more importantly, during a crash or sudden stop?
The answer to increasing safety isn’t really a tough one to figure out. Similar to keeping a walker safe, wheelchairs and their users need to be secured in place. The user secured to the wheelchair and the wheelchair secured to the vehicle. There’s nothing more dangerous to all passengers than a metal wheelchair and a flesh and blood wheeler ricocheting around inside of a vehicle. Especially when each projectile weighs 300 pounds.
Now that we have tied that up we can untie it and start over again since there are some problems with this well researched solution. The obvious- not all wheelchairs or users are secured properly in a vehicle. There is a fix for that, training, awareness, consumer vigilance, and yes, even busting transportation staff who are chronic offenders or who are too lazy to secure a wheelchair the right way. And an extremely knowldegable and vocal consumer also goes a long way.
It looks like we have tied up the ends again, or have we? No, that would be too easy. There is yet another loose end to deal with. How well does a wheelchair hold up in a crash? Are they designed with transport safety in mind? Or better yet, are they crash tested to confirm that they meet some level or standard of safety? Well, that’s a yes and no answer. Some are and some are not crash tested. Passing the wheelchair crash test makes a wheelchair WC 19 compliant and tells the world that the chair has met a safety standard.
So why are all wheelchairs not crash tested? Because nothing but common sense and concern for consumers mandates that they be. There is no law saying they have to be, so crash testing is a voluntary process. In other words- It’s left up to the wheelchair manufacturer.
Here is the upshot from the wheelchair crash testing gurus at the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) on Wheelchair Transportation Safety. “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.”
How do you know if your wheelchair has been crashed tested? You can check the manufacturer’s literature on the wheelchair. Most wheelchair manufacturers will clearly state if it is. Many will also clearly state nothing if it is not. If the wheelchair manufacturer offers a tie-down upgrade kit for the wheelchair then the chair probably was tested. Better yet, don’t get tied up in digging for literature, just check out the list of tested chairs on the RERCWTS website.
A few things to ponder:
-What about kids who are wheelchair users and take a school bus every day?
-Are you allowed to use accessible public transportation if your wheelchair is not crash tested?
-What are the alternatives if your wheelchair is not crash tested?
-What about mobility scooters that have no frame to secure to?
-Why don’t manufacturers test all of their general use wheelchairs regardless of a lack of mandates?
-How can we make wheelchair testing mandatory?
A wheelchair tie-down kit or upgrade- In most cases this is a set of four loops that are fixed to the frame of a wheelchair. One near each end of the frame. The belts/straps that are part of the vehicles wheelchair securement system are anchored to the loops making for a much more secure situation.
A common injury during accidents- In cases of vehicle impact or quick stops wheelchairs that are secured improperly or that are unable to hold up in crashes will most often fall sideways or backwards depending on the direction the wheelchair and user are facing in the vehicle. Common injuries are similar to those experienced during any hard fall such as head injury and trauma, fractures to any number of bones, lacerations, and even more serious injuries that we all would rather not think about.
A commonly used method of tying down an untested wheelchair- The wheelchair must have an accessible metal frame where the tiedown straps and hooks used to secure the chair on a motor vehicle can be attached at frame junctions. This does not mean that the wheelchair will hold up in a crash. It merely means that the wheelchair is tied down. The rest is left to chance.