New wheelchair standards call for robust equipment

Subject: Lift-equipped bus for wheelchairs users, with exclusive space inside the vehicle / Place: Rio de Janeiro city - Rio de Janeiro state - Brazil / Date: 06/2010

Deadline for ANSI/RESNA WC18 and WC19 standards approaches

By Richard Tackett

The three-year grace period for voluntary compliance with ANSI/RESNA WC-18 and WC-19 standards regarding wheelchairs and tie-downs is quickly approaching the final deadline in December 2015. Q’Straint, Ft. Lauderdale, FL, is hard at work educating bus operators on the practical application of these updated safety recommendations.

New specifications
WC-18 acts as a companion to WC-19, a standard that went into effect in 2000 and mandates the use of wheelchairs that have been crash-tested and come with an integrated lap belt. A WC-19 wheelchair has four crash-tested securement points for tie-downs and it can withstand the forces of a 30 miles per hour/20 g impact. WC-18 mandates that tie-down equipment must meet the added weight load requirements associated with WC-19-compliant wheelchairs.
WC-19 and WC-18 are meant to escalate the current Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) J2249 regulations.

“The main differences, as they pertain to a wheelchair user, is a better built wheelchair that’s been tested for use as a seat in a moving vehicle,” says Patrick Girardin, product manager at Q’Straint. “Now that the wheelchair securement is absorbing the load of the chair and the occupant restraint, we have to have a much stronger retractor.”

Girardin says that WC-19 wheelchairs, while providing serious improvements for wheelchair users, made WC-18 and stronger tie-downs necessary.

“J2249-mandated wheelchairs had lap belts either anchored to the vehicle or attached to our securements,” Girardin adds. “As the person moved forward in a collision, the load of the occupant was transferred to the floor of the vehicle through the Q’Straint provided occupant restraint. In a WC-19 chair, the wheelchair moves forward and the occupant moves forward – and the load of the occupant is transferred to the WC-19 wheelchair supplied lap belt, through their wheelchair and then directly to the retractors that are secured to the floor. Their load is dispersed between the shoulder attachment to the vehicle and the chair’s two lap-belt attachments. In essence, you’re combining their load with the wheelchair. It’s a significant increase on the loading for the rear tie-downs.”

Getting the word out
“We want to make sure that bus operators understand these new guidelines,” Girardin says. “We show how it advances passenger safety, how to meet the new standards, and show operators how to use the new products. When a wheelchair passenger gets into any type of vehicle, they should be assured that they are as safe as possible.”

John Goss, a Q’Straint training specialist, says that the company has mobilized a lot of its workforce to accomplish this kind of customer education.

“Our regional managers are all equipped for training, plus we conduct national training seminars in Ft. Lauderdale and invite people from all segments of the industry,” Goss says. “They come in for two days of training that Q’Straint and Sure-Lok fully sponsor – attendees only need to fund their transportation to South Florida.”

“The organizations behind these new guidelines have published papers and presented at a variety of conferences and symposiums,” Girardin adds. “Q’Straint will be doing our part to build awareness at events, at customer visits and through the media.”

The bottom line
Girardin says that, while the new regulations aren’t mandated by law, non-compliant operators could see adverse effects for their agency.

“I always say to look at the acquisition cost of a paratransit vehicle or city bus,” he says. “It’s quite substantial. Our tie-downs are probably some of the least expensive equipment on the vehicle. But if you are transporting someone in a wheelchair and you get involved in an accident, that has the potential to cost many times more than the cost of the vehicle.”

Girardin says that as more and more WC-19 wheelchairs are deployed, the need for WC-18’s stronger tie-downs will become more evident.

“You’re starting to see a lot of WC-19 wheelchairs,” Girardin says. “The issue is extra loading, and standard tie-downs may not offer complete protection. We have an escalation of standards that the entire industry is committed to, including wheelchair manufacturers, tie-down manufacturers, bus operators and the OEMs. We’re in this together and we recognize that no one wants to be the weakest link in the chain. We owe it to wheelchair passengers.”