Prevention of accidental injuries while using wheelchairs

Wheelchair-related driving accidents occur frequently and can have devastating effects. Unmat and Kirby (1994) reported that there are about 36,000 serious wheelchair accidents annually. Between 1973 and 1987, 770 wheelchairs-related deaths were reported to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (USCPSC), 68.5% of which were attributed to falls and tips (Calder and Kirby, 1990). In 1991 alone there were 50,000 wheelchair-related accidents that required emergency room treatment (Kirby et al., 1994). Wheelchairs accidents are often attributed to improper use or installation of safety systems and/or poor adjustment of the wheelchair (Van Roosmalen et al., 2002; Bertocci et al., 2001, Cooper, 1999).

In some cases, people use their wheelchairs as seats in motor vehicles. While this is necessary to transport some individuals, and to provide independent mobility for others it raises an entire set of safety issues. Only wheelchairs that meet safety criteria should be used regularly as seats in a motor vehicle (Bertocci et al., 1996). Serious injury may occur under typical test conditions, 30 mph at 30 times gravity acceleration frontal collision, as been shown by both simulation and testing (Bertocci et al, 1999a). Injuries are more likely to occur in wheelchairs that are unable to fail gracefully during crash loads (Bertocci et al., 1999b).

The method of braking affects the braking distance, braking time, and braking acceleration (Cooper et al., 1998a). The results indicate that using a seat belt and properly adjusted legrests reduces risk of injury or lowering the speed while driving without legrests may also decrease risk of injury. A video-based analysis of tips and falls shows that proper legrest adjustment and seat belt use offers wheelchair users greater safety when traversing common obstacles (Corfman et al., 2003b). A study of power wheelchair driving revealed that the obstacles most likely to induce a fall or loss of control were ascending a curb cut, ascending a curb (50 mm) at a 45-degree angle, and descending a 5-degree ramp.

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