Road safety for wheelchair users

A person in a powered wheelchair riding along the footpath. We need more road safety for wheelchair users.
Powered wheelchair user

A study in Sweden tackles the issue of ‘vulnerable’ road users, particularly powered wheelchair users and older people. European Union data show that fatal accidents involving vulnerable road users is equal to vehicle accidents. So what are the issues for the road safety for wheelchair users?

Researchers watched wheelchair users moving around the streets to see how they interacted with the built environment. Dealing with traffic was one aspect, but uneven surfaces, steep slopes and other pedestrians also play a part in safety.

Traffic conditions have not adapted to vulnerable road users and this is an area for improvement. Safety relies on individual coping strategies to deal with risks. Researchers found that one third of accidents were due to differences in ground level, typically the kerb. 

The title of the article is, Obstacles and risks in the traffic environment for users of powered wheelchairs in Sweden. It is open access. The study was included different disciplines: design, physiotherapy, disability studies and biomechanics. The long term goal is to reduce accidents and reinforce active participation for people with disability.

Highlights from the study 

      • Video observation and interviews can identify risks and obstacles in traffic environment.
      • The degree of accessibility affects the degree of risk taking in traffic environment.
      • Identified risks were due to deficiencies in built environment and poor maintenance.
      • Other risks were related to interaction with other road users and poor visibility
      • Negative impacts of coldness, precipitation and poor snow clearing.

From the Abstract

The aim of this interdisciplinary qualitative study was to identify obstacles and risks for Powered Wheelchair (PWC) users by exploring their behaviour and experiences in traffic environments.

Videos and in-depth interviews with 13 PWC users aged 20–66 were analysed for this study. The videos include real-life outdoor observations exploring experiences of PWC use on a daily basis in Sweden. 

Participants faced and dealt with various obstacles and risks in order to reach their destination. For example, uneven surfaces, differences in ground levels, steep slopes, as well as interactions with other road users and the influence of weather conditions. This resulted in PWC users constantly accommodating and coping with the shortcomings of the vehicle and the environment.

There are still major challenges for preventing obstacles and risks in the traffic environment for PWC users. To discern PWC users in traffic accident and injury data bases, a start would be to register type of aid used for persons involved in an accident.

Furthermore, to emphasise PWC users’ role as vulnerable road users, it may also be advantageous to describe them as drivers rather than users when navigating the traffic environment.

By incorporating emerging knowledge of PWC users’ prerequisites and needs, and including them in research and traffic planning, the society will grow safer and more inclusive, and become better prepared for meeting future demands on accessibility from an ageing population.

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