Wow. How sad is this? Wheelchair bound pedestrians are at a 36% higher risk of having a collision with a car than regular pedestrians. The article authors extrapolated that two things are contributing to this: poor pedestrian infrastructure and low visibility of wheelchair users.
This is where we therapists come in. Because we all know this is going to happen no matter what we recommend:
First, we need to make sure we lend our voices in support of legislation that improves pedestrian infrastructure such as crosswalks, sidewalks, and intersection pedestrian signals. For example, there is a very prominent crosswalk about a mile from my house across a busy road that connects a Ronald McDonald House and the local hospital. I noticed just this last week that they’ve added lighted road dots that flash at night. It definitely made me slow down and look twice. Loving that as an idea and makes me feel safer personally, as I often use that crosswalk when I go out running in the neighborhood.
Second, we also need to stand behind and assist with efforts to teach both drivers and wheelchair users the rules of the road, which can differ slightly state to state. Click here to see the laws in California as an example and there are also links to other states’ DMVs, so you can check out the laws in your state. According to the Texas Transportation Code, wheelchair users are bound by pedestrian laws and there doesn’t seem to be anything else on the books beyond that. If you’re really into the topic, I found this forum discussion on the topic interesting.
And the third thing we need to do is educate the wheelchair users that are going to be in the street on how to make themselves more visible to drivers. This is why I think they should be in the same law category as bicycles: I think many of the ways I make myself more visible when I cycle in the road would be perfectly applicable to a wheelchair user as well. One of the disadvantages on a bike or a wheelchair is that you often are not at eye level with drivers. I’ve seen these:
And for your vets I’ve seen a couple around here with a full sized American flag attached to their backs in a similar fashion. That takes a little more wheelchair fashion guts though, because it sure is hard to miss a giant flag fluttering down the street. But that’s the whole point!
Making sure all the reflectors are in working order or in the case of manual chairs, getting some attached. I would think bicycle reflectors you can get at your local Wal-Mart, etc. or bike shop would well, although I’m not entirely sure. If that doesn’t do the trick, in the same vicinity as the plastic reflectors there is usually reflector tape. That works pretty good too. When I had a dog, I put some of that on her collar and leash, because I walked her at night frequently. It definitely helped the cars to steer clear of us.
And if the user is definitely going to be out at night, attaching a headlight and blinking red tail light, which again you can get in the bike safety area of Wal-Mart, etc. or bike shop. Maybe even consider getting a flashing safety light for the user’s physical self too. I use one of those when I go out running at night, because I don’t trust the drivers to not hit me. Come too close too many time.
Anybody else have another idea or something you’ve seen to make pedestrian infrastructure safer for wheelchairs or how to make a wheelchair user more visible to drivers? Make sure you go review the laws in your state. Did any of the rules surprise you?