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Logo for the Journal of Rehab R&D
Vol. 37 No. 1, January/February 2000
Pages 89 - 100

Abstract - Wheelchair rider risk in motor vehicles: A technical note

Greg Shaw, PhD

University of Virginia Transportation Rehabilitation Engineering Center Automobile Safety Laboratory, Charlottesville, VA 22902

Abstract--A better understanding of the risk involved in riding different sizes and types of motor vehicles is required to make informed decisions regarding a reasonable level of protection for wheelchair riders. Wheelchair rider accident information that can be used to estimate risk is quite limited. This paper reviewed the resources available, including the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System database. Motor vehicle accident data for the general public were analyzed in order to better characterize wheelchair rider risk. Using the National Safety Council annual transportation mode fatality rates and the (inverse) relationship of vehicle mass and occupant fatality rate, fatality rates for vehicles that transport wheelchair riders (minivans, vans, paratransit vans, and small and large buses) were estimated. Despite the large margins of error that must be assumed for accident data and the conclusions drawn from it, the available information suggests that 1) the majority of wheelchair rider injuries could be prevented by providing protection for abrupt vehicle maneuvers; 2) the type, size, and mass of the vehicle have a substantial effect on the fatality rate, although this effect decreases for heavier (>3,000 kg) vehicles; and 3) wheelchair riders who cannot properly use tiedown and occupant restraint systems or who are frail would face a lower risk of injury if transported in larger vehicles.

Key words: fatality rates, injuries, motor vehicles, risk, transportation safety, wheelchair.

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