Section 37.3 of the DOT’s regulations implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) (49 CFR Parts 27, 37, and 38) defines a "common wheelchair" as a mobility aid belonging to any class of three or four-wheeled devices, usable indoors, designed for and used by individuals with mobility impairments, whether operated manually or powered. A "common wheelchair" does not exceed 30 inches in width and 48 inches in length measured two inches above the ground, and does not weigh more than 600 pounds when occupied.
Transit wheelchairs that can be used most safely on a city transit bus, will have four identifiable and crash-tested securement points to which tie-down straps can be easily attached. If it is not possible to use a transit wheelchair, the next best choice is a wheelchair with an accessible metal frame to which tie-down straps can be attached at frame junctions.
Before you purchase a wheelchair, ask if the model you are looking at meets ANSI/RESA WC/19 Standards. If you already have a wheelchair, check with your dealer to see if the model you own meets these standards.
A properly positioned headrest on the wheelchair will help protect the head and neck. If it is necessary to use an added head and neck support during travel, soft neck collars are safer than stiff collars or head straps which could cause neck injury in a crash. The soft collar should not be attached to the seating system.
Transit vehicles use a four-point tie-down. It is important that your wheelchair be crash tested and meets ANSI/RESNA WC/19 Standards. This system is a universal tie-down that works with a wide range of wheelchairs. This type of system requires the driver to attach the straps for the person seated in the wheelchair.
To provide effective restraint for the person in the wheelchair, a belt restraint must be used. A lap and shoulder belt helps prevent the wheelchair user from being thrown from the vehicle or from hitting the interior of the vehicle during a crash or during emergency driving conditions.
If you do not have a transit wheelchair, it is best if you can attach the tie-downs to welded junctions of the frame or other structural areas where the frame is fastened together with hardened steel bolts. Bus operators are advised to avoid attaching tie-downs to adjustable or removable parts of the wheelchair – that may include armrests, leg-rests and wheels.
On non-transit wheelchairs, structural securement points as high as possible but below the seat surface will be used as a tie down. This is done to provide as much stability during travel as possible.
In addition to securing the wheelchair, your bus operator will also require that you use a crash-tested lap and shoulder belt. Some wheelchair hardware, such as an armrest, can interfere with a good lap belt fit. Bus operators will not place the lap belt over an armrest.
Everyone wants to be safe riding public transit. Some common sense will go a long way towards achieving that goal for everyone.