Consumer research for older and disabled people

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Safety for wheelchair users on public transport

Safety in buses, coaches and trainsWoman in wheelchair on bus

  • An upright pad or partition is fixed at one end of the wheelchair area. Place the back of your wheelchair against it.  
  • The backrest of your wheelchair should be in the upright position, so that it fits securely against this pad or partition.
  • Put on your brakes once in the travelling position.
  • Turn off the power when in place.
  • Take care on the ramp when it's wet or icy.
  • Never travel facing sideways.
  • Powered wheelchairs or mobility scooters must have sealed or gel-type batteries.

Safety in taxis

  • Use a ramp to board.
  • Always travel facing backwards.
  • Make sure your wheelchair is secured appropriately. Ask the driver to explain what they're doing and get them to re-adjust if you're not happy.
  • Wear a lap seatbelt and a diagonal seatbelt. The lap belt should lay flat across your lap and not be held away from your body. The diagonal belt should not slip down your arm.

Maintenance

A transport operator can refuse to carry you if they think your wheelchair may be a safety risk to other passengers. So before you travel, it's a good idea to make sure that:

  • tyres are at the right pressure
  • the back of the chair is not loaded with bags, which could cause it to tip
  • batteries are secure
  • kerb climbers are adjusted so that they do not catch on ramps

Stability on ramps

Most wheelchair users have few problems negotiating slopes. But wheelchairs can tip on slopes that are too steep. Although most tips are backwards, it is possible to tip forwards or sideways. Things that can affect stability include:

  • the shape and size of cushions and seats
  • your weight and shape, the way you sit, and the movements you make
  • attachments such as trays and leg-rests, shopping and other things you carry
  • sudden changes of speed or direction when the wheelchair is near its tipping point
  • steep ramps, particularly when going down and in wet or icy conditions
  • surface features such as thresholds, gaps, ledges and other obstructions

To minimise risk, know the limits of your wheelchair and how to control it safely. If in doubt, check manufacturer's instructions. Be aware of how stable you are on different ramps and slopes. Check before travelling if anything has changed that may affect your stability - for instance, if your wheelchair has a new accessory added to it. Know your weight in your wheelchair and check it's within the safe working load for ramps or lifting equipment.

Things you can do to improve stability

  • Do not carry things on the front, rear or side of the wheelchair.
  • Adjust the wheelchair for optimum stability. On some wheelchairs, the castors or rear wheels can be moved. However, some people adjust their wheelchairs to get better manoeuverability at the expense of stability. If you're in doubt about this compromise, consult your wheelchair service, a manufacturer or a mobility centre.
  • Fit an anti-tipping device.
  • Be careful how you sit in situations where there might be a danger of tipping. Avoid moving or stretching in ways that might increase the risk.
  • If you make involuntary movements, attachments such as posture support, calf straps or heel loops may help. If needed, get advice.
  • Make sure electronic controls, including accelerator and brakes, are set to minimise risk.
  • Only go straight up/down a slope. Do not attempt to cross the line of a slope.

Many wheelchair users are familiar enough with their chair to know how stable it is. If in any doubt, and if you have an NHS wheelchair, your local wheelchair service should be able to assess your stability. If you bought your chair privately, ask the manufacturer if they can make this assessment.

If you travel with an assistant or you get help when getting into public transport, always make sure that they know what to do and how to do it safely, and are strong enough to help. Your assistant should never attempt to lift you and your wheelchair.

Last updated: August 2015


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