Study: Wheelchair Users More Likely to Die in Car-Pedestrian Accidents

A Georgetown University study determined that in car-pedestrian crashes, wheelchair users are one-third more likely to die than pedestrians who were not using wheelchairs.

And more than half of those fatalities for wheelchair users happen at intersections.

Results of the study were published in November in BMJ Open, a medical journal for all disciplines and therapeutic areas.

Researchers used accident data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as well as news stories that reported fatal car accidents. In a news announcement about the study’s publication, researchers said about 528 pedestrians using wheelchairs were killed in car crashes that occurred in the United States between 2006 and 2012.

“This equates to a pedestrian wheelchair user’s risk of death being about 36 percent higher than non-wheelchair users,” the study said.

Five times as many men using wheelchairs were killed versus the number of women using wheelchairs who died, the report added. Fatalities among men were highest for those aged 50 to 64 years.

The fatal accidents happened at intersections 47.5 percent of the time, and “in 39 percent of these cases, traffic flow was not controlled,” the study said.

That lack of traffic control was a major factor, said John Kraemer, JD, MPH, assistant professor of health systems administration at Georgetown’s School of Nursing & Health Studies. The study’s co-author was Connor Benton, M.D., MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.

“A high proportion of crashes occurred at locations without traffic controls or crosswalks,” Kraemer noted. “When there is poor pedestrian infrastructure or it’s poorly adapted to people with mobility impairments, people who use wheelchairs often are forced to use the streets, or are otherwise exposed to greater risk. It also may be telling that, in three-quarters of crashes, there was no evidence that the driver sought to avoid the crash.”

Kraemer said other previous research suggested that “wheelchair users may be less conspicuous to drivers (because of speed, location and height) and this is a topic that needs to be explored more. It is important to make sure that communities are designed to meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act so that people with disabilities can use them fully and safely.”

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at

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