In the past, wheelchair school bus were an afterthought. Many did not even meet basic standards for surviving a crash. Drivers could use restraints and methods that were inadequate for safety. Since the Individuals with Disabilities Act mandated schools make transportation to and from school available to children with handicaps, schools have had a need for wheelchair buses. Besides complying with the law, using wheelchair buses properly increases the safety of everyone by keeping the rigid wheelchair frame securely in place. Here are some important points when finding the right wheelchair school bus.
Designed for Safety
In 1991 the US Department of Transportation modified the safety standards to include wheelchairs. In 1996, the Restraint Systems Task Group of the Society of Automotive Engineers' Adaptive Devices got involved and adopted voluntary industry safety standards, called WC19, for testing and designing a wheelchair to be a seat in a vehicle. That means that they can withstand a 30 mph crash and can be anchored to the bus by a securement strap end-fitting hook. It also allows the wheelchair and student to be strapped into the wheelchair correctly.
Drivers should always be able to buckle a wheelchair-bound child in with straps that cross the shoulders and the pelvis. The straps should be snug and held as close to the body as is comfortable. The buckle needs to be near the student’s hip and away from the working parts of the wheelchair. Though the wheelchair frame can sometimes interfere with proper belting, those caring for students in wheelchairs should strive to get as close to this ideal as possible.
Anchoring the Wheelchair
The wheelchair itself should be tied to the correct points. The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 222 defines the best wheelchair restraint as something that can be connected to four points of the bus itself. Each wheelchair and vehicle will have anchorage components and tie down assemblies designed by the manufacturers to work together to strap wheelchairs safely. These restraints should not be attached to a person at any time. Forces in play when a bus brakes suddenly would throw a person attached to the restraints forward and injure them. Wheelchair add-on equipment can also create hazards in an accident by breaking loose and flying forward. Anyone strapping a student in should stow these away safely every time. Students in wheelchairs can use postural supports for comfort, but anything else will need to be stowed.
Other Safety Tips
Each manufacturer has their own set of requirements for operation. A simple set of rules applies for most wheelchair lifts.
- Ground lift completely before loading, ensure all parts lay flat
- Load passenger facing away from the bus
- Disallow passengers standing on the lift at any time
The Human Element
These instructions can be overwhelming if unfamiliar, so be sure to enforce proper training of drivers and related personal. Most wheelchair lift manufacturers provide written and video instructions for their products. Training seminars are also available. Once employees are trained, proper wheelchair school bus use will make everyone safe. Then everyone can rest easy knowing that the school is not only complying with the law but keeping students secure.