People, Wheelchairs & Cars: Understanding the WC18 Transportation Standard

To stay in the wheelchair or to transfer?

When a wheelchair user rides in automotive vehicles, transportation experts (including the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute [UMTRI]) generally agree that it’s safer to transfer into the automotive seat to best take advantage of the car’s built-in safety features, including shoulder and lap belts.

But transferring out of a wheelchair isn’t practical for everyone, including wheelchair users with complex positioning needs who can’t sit in a typical automotive seat. For those passengers, staying in their wheelchairs is the better option.

Making that option a safer one is the goal of several different wheelchair transportation safety standards, commonly referred to as WC18, WC19 and WC20.

What Are the Standards?

As UMTRI’s Web site explains, the standards come from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA).

The WC19 standard concerns wheelchairs that are used as seating in motor vehicles – i.e., when a wheelchair user stays seated in the wheelchair while riding in the vehicle. The standard’s considerations include how the wheelchair is “tied down” or secured within the motor vehicle, and the use and locations of pelvic and shoulder safety belts to secure the user in the wheelchair.

The WC20 standard involves wheelchair seating systems that are used as motor vehicle seating. Seating systems are tested and analyzed on their own, independently of the wheelchair frame.

And WC18 is the standard concerning wheelchair tie-down and occupant restraint systems (WTORS) used in motor vehicles.

In a white paper on the subject, Q’Straint, a manufacturer of wheelchair passenger safety solutions for private and commercial vehicles, noted that the WC18 standard is now the industry’s best practice.

“With safety as the number-one priority in wheelchair transportation, RESNA updated the WC18 standards for wheelchair tie-down and occupant restraint systems to improve safety for people who must use their wheelchair as the passenger seat when riding in a bus, van or car,” the white paper noted.

“Various departments of education and individual districts throughout the country have adopted WC18 as they revise their specifications for new procurements. Currently, the National Minimum School Bus Standards, which were revised just prior to WC18 taking effect, call for compliance with an older standard, SAE-J2249, which is no longer supported since WC18 is now the legally and industry-recognized ‘best practice’ standard.”

How WC19 Impacts WC18

While WC19 is often thought of as a wheelchair standard, it also involves safely securing the passenger to the wheelchair during normal transportation and in the event of a crash.

And that means the WC19 standard impacts WC18, the Q’Straint white paper noted.

“As background, WC19 was the first industry standard in the United States for wheelchair manufacturers to address the design and performance of wheelchairs used as seats in motor vehicles,” the paper said. “WC18 governs the systems used to safely secure the wheelchairs within the personal or commercial vehicle. The benefits of the WC18 standards address not only improved passenger safety, but also offer a more efficient and independent securement process.

“WC18 requires that WTORS withstand a sled impact test using a 30-mph/20g crash pulse, a 187-lb. surrogate wheelchair and a 170-lb. midsize adult male crash-test dummy where the lap belt is anchored to the vehicle,” the paper notes. “Since WC19 standards now require the availability of an optional wheelchair–anchored lap belt to hold the occupant into place, RESNA had to address the higher wheelchair forces that would be transmitted to the tie-down/securement systems when a person riding in a wheelchair is using that lap belt. As a result, RESNA developed the WC18 standard requiring that WTORS must also be able to withstand the increased forces generated in a second impact test, in which the 170-lb. crash-test dummy is restrained by a lap belt that is anchored to the surrogate wheelchair rather than to the vehicle itself.”

Q’Straint manufactures lap belts for manufacturers that produce WC19-compliant wheelchairs. Q’Straint’s white paper listed several benefits of a wheelchair-anchored lap belt, including that it provides a better fit -- low on the passenger’s pelvis, which is the safest and most secure belt location; it eliminates interference from wheelchair components such as armrests, as can happen with a lap belt anchored to the vehicle floor; it reduces invasion of the passenger’s personal space by the vehicle operator or other attendant who would otherwise be securing straps around the passenger’s body; and it reduces the time required to secure the lap-shoulder belt.

Q’Straint noted that those benefits impact the entire transportation process for all stakeholders.

“Manufacturers see real value for their customers,” Q’Straint said, “and riders and drivers alike are eager to see the new improvements implemented rapidly.”

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