Wheelchair Transportation Safety Awareness & The Dangers of Ignoring Safety Standards
There are over 3.3 million wheelchair users in the United States alone and that number is expected to grow by 2 million new wheelchair users each year.1 Over half of these individuals are 65 years of age or older. Many of these individuals depend on their wheelchairs to the extent that they cannot travel safely and comfortably in a standard vehicle seat. Instead, they rely on accessible transportation solutions to accommodate their needs. Often, Non-Emergency Medical Transportation (NEMT) services meet this need for the general population who are unable to afford their own private wheelchair-accessible vehicles.
Of wheelchair users aged 65+, more than half have a diagnosis of chronic kidney disease (CKD) with end-stage renal disease (ESRD). These people require an average of 5.9 monthly rides to appointments. Those requiring dialysis need even more frequent trips. 18% of wheelchair users had an intellectual disability, such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or developmental delays and required about 4.4 rides monthly. 14% had a mental health condition and required an average of 1.8 monthly rides. With millions of monthly trips for these vulnerable populations, there is a high risk for additional injury during vehicle travel.
The Dangers of Vehicle Travel in a Wheelchair
People seated in wheelchairs are 45 times more likely to be injured in a crash than people in a standard vehicle seat.2 The primary cause of disabling, or even fatal, injuries to passengers involves the passenger falling out of their wheelchair or coming unsecured. When this happens during a crash, they will likely collide with the vehicle interior, with objects outside of the vehicle, or become ejected from the vehicle altogether. Improperly placed seatbelt restraints are the second most common cause of serious injuries for this vulnerable group of passengers.3
A Lack of Regulations for Wheelchair Transportation Safety
Despite the significant risk of traveling in a wheelchair, there are no laws in the United States that govern the crash testing or securement of wheelchairs used as seats in vehicles. There are, however, a set of voluntary standards initiated in the 1908s and 1990s by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), the Rehabilitation Engineering Society of North America (RESNA), and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).3
WC18 Standards for Wheelchair Tie-Down & Seat Belt Systems
The guidelines that cover Wheelchair Tie-Down & Occupant Restraint Systems (WTORS) are called the WC18 standards. WC18 compliant tie-down devices aim to provide sufficient restraint to prevent a wheelchair from moving more than two inches in any direction during a crash event. These standards have been developed to ensure passenger safety, and manufacturers who comply with these guidelines can provide greater peace of mind for those who rely on wheelchairs for mobility.
WC19 Standards for Wheelchairs Used as Seats in Motor Vehicles
Most wheelchairs were not purposefully designed to be used as seats in motor vehicles. It can be difficult to identify the best way to secure certain wheelchair frame designs and most occupant restraint belts are not suitable for use as a seat belt in the event of a motor vehicle accident. The WC19 standards guide the engineering and testing of wheelchairs that can be safely used as a secure vehicle seat, with proper occupant safety belts.
To be WC19 compliant, a wheelchair must meet the following criteria:4
- Four easily accessible securement points on the wheelchair frame
- A wheelchair-anchored pelvic belt restraint
- WC19 labeling on the wheelchair frame and belts
- Successful completion of a 30-mph, 2-g frontal impact crash test without any components failing. An occupied crash test with a test dummy is a plus.
- Securement geometry that accepts a securement strap end fitting hook
- A clear path of travel that allows proper placement of vehicle-mounted occupant safety belts next to the skeletal parts of the passenger’s body
- No sharp edges
The Need for Awareness of WC19 Standards
Although the standards are a step in the right direction, these guidelines are not mandatory. In fact, less than half of transportation professionals are even aware that these standards exist.5 In a retrospective study of 85 paratransit vehicles, 24% of the monitored trips were completed with incorrect placement or total misuse of the wheelchair tie-down and occupant restraint systems. Transportation companies must increase their knowledge and driver training in order to provide safer outcomes for passengers who may not be able to advocate for themselves.
Where Do We Go From Here?
In response to learning about these voluntary standards, non-emergency medical transportation companies must educate their team on proper securement techniques and the risks of transporting passengers in a wheelchair that is not properly secured. Medical facilities must also train their healthcare team on the importance of selecting an NEMT provider who offers WC19 wheelchairs and proper securement procedures on every trip.
The Ultimate Transport Wheelchair
The Travrsa-LT Transport Wheelchair is the ultimate WC19 certified wheelchair that provides a comfortable and secure ride for passengers of all shapes and sizes. As a WC19 certified wheelchair, it meets the highest safety standards for wheelchair transportation, which includes rigorous testing for stability, crash safety, and occupant protection. Designed for maximum stability, the Travrsa-LT Transport Wheelchair comes equipped with four-point tie-downs that securely fasten it to the vehicle while in transit, ensuring that the wheelchair remains in place during a crash event. Whether you’re on a personal trip or a medical appointment, the Travrsa-LT Transport Wheelchair provides peace of mind and comfort for individuals with a range of mobility needs.
- O’Reilly, N., Jackson, K., Bell, J., Ajeyalemi, S., Ogunleye, O., Chykwuemeka, U., … Hampton, L. (n.d.). Wheelchair Users. Physiopedia. Retrieved from https://www.physio-pedia.com/Wheelchair_Users
- Schneider, L. (2015). Providing Safe Transportation and Crash Protection for Drivers (and passengers) Seated in Wheelchairs. 109.
- WC19 Your Ticket to Ride Safely. (2010, August 18). The WC19 Information Resource: Crash-tested wheelchairs & seating systems. https://www.rercwts.org/WC19.html
- Q’STRAINT (2019, April 4) WC18-19 benefits of wheelchair securement standards. https://www.qstraint.com/qnews/wc18-19-benefits-of-wheelchair-securement-standards/
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There are over 3.3 million wheelchair users in the United States alone and that number is expected to grow by 2 million new wheelchair users each year.1 Over half of these individuals are 65 years of age or older. Many of these individuals depend on their wheelchairs to the extent that they cannot travel safely and comfortably in a standard