Wheelchair Securement Study ‘First of Its Kind’

New research from the University of Pittsburgh’s Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Wheelchair Transportation Safety shows participants respond favorably to rear-facing wheelchair passenger systems and independent use versus operator assistance.

The study was recently published in the Journal of Rehabilitation Research & Development to evaluate security, ease of use, comfort and independent use of three types of wheelchair securement systems in a large accessible transit vehicle (LATV). Researchers compared the usability of a prototype auto-docking system and prototype rear-facing wheelchair passenger (RF-WP) system with the traditional four-point tie-down system. The latter system is typically used with wheelchairs on school buses and adheres to WC19 safety standards established by RESNA.

In the study, 20 participants took a 15-minute city ride before completing a survey, which also sought input from wheelchair and scooter users on how to improve LATV securement systems. Eight participants used a power wheelchair in the testing, seven used a manual wheelchair and five used a three-wheel electric scooter.

“This is the first study of its kind to evaluate users’ opinions on various types of wheelchair securement systems for use in LATVs,” wrote the authors. “To adopt new technologies into society, it is important to obtain user feedback early in the design process.”

The survey gathered information on how often participants traveled in LATVs, paratransit vehicles and personal vans or cars. Of the 12 participants who remain seated in a wheelchair aboard LATVs, 10 said they never have their wheelchair secured. Conversely, 10 of the 11 participants who remain in their wheelchairs on a paratransit vehicle and all who remain seated in their wheelchair on personal vans reported using wheelchair securement.

Among key findings was the importance of independent use versus operator assistance and the participants’ preference to face forward while traveling. Participants responded positively to the auto-docking and RF-WP systems, saying they were quicker and easier to use and allowed more independent use than the four-point tie-down system. But, there was concern regarding the RF-WP system that rear-facing travel hindered passengers’ ability to see upcoming stops.

Fourteen participants preferred the auto-docking system, three preferred the RF-WP system and two preferred the four-point tie-down system. Participants cited the reasons they liked the autodocking system as quick, independent, easy and intuitive to use and allowing forward-facing travel. Participants who liked the RF-WP system said it is easy to use, safe and secure; any wheelchair could use the system; no wheelchair hardware is required; and it has a headrest.

Four-point tie-down systems are required by ADA regulations and are the most commonly available systems on LATVs.

“The knowledge gained from observations and responses from study participants will be used to design improved securement systems for use on LATVs,” the authors concluded. “The findings will also be communicated to wheelchair tie-down and occupant restraint system manufacturers to optimize forward- and rear-facing wheelchair securement systems.”