Vehicles that are not accessible are designed with a safety bubble comprised of firmly anchored seats, seat belts and a belt restraint system to protect the upper and lower torso, and air bags to protect you in the event of a crash. This “cone of protection” does not exist for those with disabilities riding in wheelchairs, but there are ways to ensure your vehicle is adapted to keep you safe.
To get such protection in a wheelchair accessible vehicle it must be modified by a mobility equipment manufacturer or Quality Assurance Program (QAP) dealer. Mobility equipment dealers know that transferring to the vehicle seat offers the highest level of protection.
The next best option is a WC19 compliant wheelchair, which is designed for use as a seat in motor vehicles, because regular wheelchair frames and seats are not as strong to withstand crash conditions.
The Risks of a Quick Fix
The pricing for each vehicle varies depending on each individual’s specific needs, the cost for a modified handicap vehicle can be anywhere from $20,000 on up. Today, some people are avoiding the cost of making their vehicle safe and accessible by creating unreliable gadgets that will allow them to drive.
While this method can be temporarily effective, the long-term repercussions and risks of operating a vehicle this way are massive, not to mention illegal in many cases.
Let The Professionals Handle It
Below are some reasons to let the professionals handle the installation of your seating and restraints on a vehicle with no modifications:
- It is difficult to find suitable places on the wheelchair frame to attach wheelchair tie downs. Or it is likely that the places you find are not strong enough to hold up under a crash.
- Tie down straps may be attached to the most accessible places on the wheelchair, which are often the weakest. (Attaching to detachable footrests or armrests is a really bad idea.)
- Belt restraints should fit over the pelvis and shoulders. However, most wheelchair designs make positioning vehicle-anchored restraints difficult.
- When wheelchair occupants are placed facing sideways in the vehicle, since this is easiest for getting a wheelchair in and out of the vehicle. But then occupants are in the least-safe orientation for a frontal crash. All occupied wheelchairs should face forward during transit.
- The experts will tell you trays and tray-mounted accessories are rarely fixed to wheelchairs with safety in mind.
- They should be stowed elsewhere during transit or attached securely.
Finding a licensed and trustworthy dealer/mechanic should be a number one priority when it comes to getting your car modified. An accredited NMEDA QAP dealer knows all this and works to make your ride the safest and most comfortable possible.
The National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA) is an advocate for mobility and accessibility for drivers with disabilities. If you need help with converting or buying a handicap accessible car, truck or van, please consider one of our Quality Assurance Program mobility equipment dealers.