The Associated Press reported yesterday that University of Michigan researches found 52 accidents over the last three years that involved vehicles transporting people in wheelchairs. Those injuries were blamed on the improper use of wheelchair vehicle restraints. The study found that simply strapping a vehicle to the floor of a bus or minivan was not enough protection.
Even though in most of these accidents the wheelchairs were secured, in most cases they were not secured properly.
“By and large, many of these injuries are preventable if the restraints had been used, or used properly,” said Gina Bertocci, a professor who works in wheelchair transportation safety at the University of Louisville in KY.
According to a 2007 survey, 1 in 7 wheelchair users who rode on public transportation never used restraints, simply because they did not know how or the driver did not take the time to use the wheelchair securements and lap belts. Under the American Disabilities Acts (ADA), wheelchair users are only required to use restraints on public transportation if every other passenger in the vehicle is also required to use restraints.
“If we’re not going to require the general public to wear seat belts on buses, we shouldn’t require people with disabilities,” said Lex Frieden, a former head of the National Council on Disability who helped draft the ADA in the mid-1980s. “Clearly, one could argue we need to look after the well-being of the people using these vehicles, but that leads us to a patronizing approach.”
Ethical issues on equality aside, it’s difficult to argue that wheelchair users using wheelchair seat belts and wheelchair tie downs is not important for safety. The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) on Wheelchair Transportation Safety has done extensive research into wheelchair transportation safety. Here is a demonstration of what can happen if you are not using wheelchair tie downs and seat belts properly: