Upon investigating the prevalence of wheelchair collisions, the amount of vehicle collisions with pedestrians using wheelchairs was shocking. According to Kraemer & Benton (2015), people who use wheelchairs are 36% more likely to die in a collision with a vehicle than other pedestrians. Fatal vehicle accidents took the lives of sixty wheelchair users in the United States in 2009 (LaBan & Nabity, 2010). This tragic statistic makes it clear the need for improved road safety for wheelchair users. Here are some ideas of ways to improve safety for navigating roads in a wheelchair.
1. Increase Visibility
The reason for the increased risk for pedestrians who use wheelchairs is speculated by Reuters (2015) to be due to decreased visibility of wheelchairs. This is supported by LaBan & Nabity (2010), who found that accidents between motor vehicles and wheelchairs were most likely to occur between dawn and dusk. Here are some easy (and low cost!) ways you can increase the visibility of your wheelchair:
Sitting in a wheelchair may place you out of the field of view of car drivers, increasing your risk of being in a collision. You can increase your visibility by using a flag that sticks up from your chair. This is a very low cost solution. But be aware- these flags typically attach to the backrest of the chair, which makes them visible only when you are fully in the driver's field of view.
Lights can be added to your chair when ordering, or can be added after. They can be expensive when purchased from wheelchair manufacturers, however low-cost stick on lights can be added. Tetra Gear offers light attachments designed specifically to increase visibility in wheelchairs . Alternatively, you can check out your local dollar store or hardware store for lights to attach to your wheelchair if you are feeling creative!
Reflective gear may not be the highest fashion option, but safety is way cooler than fashion any day! When driving at night in areas you know aren’t well lit, you could use reflective vests or jackets, or attach reflective decals to your chair.
Make eye contact with car drivers before you cross the road
No matter how visible your chair may seem, drivers of cars may not be paying attention, or looking for wheelchairs. When crossing the road, try taking an extra second to make eye contact with the driver of the car to ensure that they see you. When in doubt, wait for the car to pass (and give them a shaming look for failing to look out for wheelchairs!)
2. Follow all Traffic Laws
Anyone who uses a mobility device, including wheelchairs and mobility scooters must follow all laws for pedestrians under the Highway Traffic Act in Ontario. This includes driving on a sidewalk wherever possible, and returning to the sidewalk as soon as possible when no sidewalk is available. When driving on the road, you must drive facing oncoming traffic, on the left hand shoulder of the roadway. Jaywheeling is both illegal and dangerous. The extra 5 minutes that it takes to get to a crosswalk is worth it to stay safe!
Unfortunately, following the law is not a guarantee of safety. 47.6% of fatal collisions between cars and wheelchairs occurred in intersections, with 47.5% of pedestrians in wheelchairs using a crosswalk at the time of collision and 18.3% had no crosswalk available (Kraemer & Benton, 2015). In all of these cases, the pedestrian was likely following the law. Be cautious at all times
3. Be Prepared!
20% of collisions between wheelchairs and cars in 2009 were hit and runs (LaBan & Nabity, 2010). Make sure that you have access to a phone, and can call for help in case of an accident. If accessing your phone is difficult, check out the Tecla, which allows you to control a phone using an alternative access switch or wheelchair controller.
This can include making sure that your battery is fully charged, or planning to use public transit or an alternative route in areas without sidewalks.
Ensure that your chair is maintained properly to avoid preventable accidents, such as from faulty breaks or batteries. If something doesn’t seem right on your chair, have someone look at it. Trust your intuition, no one knows your chair better than you!
4. Be aware of your surroundings
In busy areas, it is important to know exactly what is going on around you to prevent being hit yourself, or running someone over. Most wheelchairs have large blind spots that can be difficult to monitor, especially in crowded areas. Braze Mobility makes a blind spot sensor system that monitors what is happening in your blind spots and makes navigating in tight spaces easier. For more information, click here!
Thanks for joining us! If you have any safe driving tips that you think we missed, please comment below! Stay safe out there!
Kraemer, J. D., & Benton, C. S. (2015). Disparities in road crash mortality among pedestrians using wheelchairs in the USA: results of a capture–recapture analysis. BMJ open, 5(11), e008396.
LaBan, M. M., & Nabity Jr, T. S. (2010). Traffic collisions between electric mobility devices (wheelchairs) and motor vehicles: Accidents, hubris, or self-destructive behavior?. American journal of physical medicine & rehabilitation, 89(7), 557-560.
Rapaport, L. (2015) Wheelchair users More likely to die in car crashes. Reuters.