Transporting children in wheelchairs

Transporting children in wheelchairs

Wherever possible, children should transfer from their wheelchair to the vehicle seating with the wheelchair securely stored separately in a purpose made storage area. However, it is sometimes appropriate to transport a child within their wheelchair due to their size, postural needs or reducing the need for transfers.

The majority of newer wheelchairs are designed for use during transportation and the manufacturer of the wheelchair will provide written guidance on this. A car or van may need to be modified however, to allow wheelchair access. Some families choose to put the mobility component of their Disability Living Allowance (DLA) towards a Motability vehicle that allows their child to travel in their wheelchair. Before purchasing a vehicle, advice can be sought from your nearest Mobility Centre.

This information is for the transportation of outdoor use wheelchairs. If the equipment has been designed for indoor use only, the manufacturer's literature should clearly state that it should not be used as a seat in a vehicle. In such cases, the manufacturer should provide guidance on how to transport the equipment safely.

When transporting, the wheelchair must be secured firmly to the vehicle floor with a wheelchair restraint system (also known as tie-downs) so that it may act as close as possible to a standard passenger seat. Never transport a wheelchair without a restraint system - they are essential to protect the child in the event of a crash. Manufacturers' instructions should describe the required anchorage system to the vehicle. As well as securing the wheelchair in the vehicle, the child must be restrained independently of the wheelchair using an occupant restraint (seat belt) which fits snugly over the pelvis (hips), not over the abdomen (stomach).

General guidelines for safe transportation:

  • Your child's safety during transportation depends on the diligence of the person securing the tie-down restraints and it is essential that they have received appropriate training in their use. Manufacturer's instructions should always be carefully followed.
  • When a child is to be transported in their wheelchair, the therapist, in conjunction with the child and family, needs to recommend and provide equipment that takes the transportation requirements into consideration. A risk assessment should include every type of transport to which your child has regular access.
  • Never construct or use homemade anchor systems which would likely fail under crash conditions.
  • Tie-down restraints should be fitted to the main frame of the wheelchair and not to any attachments or accessories (e.g. not around the hand-rims, the spokes of wheels or the footrests). On some wheelchairs, the point where the tie-down should be secured may be indicated on the wheelchair itself.
  • Lap belts supplied with the wheelchair, chest harnesses, pommels and other positioning aids designed for wheelchair use are not substitutes for a seat belt and are not designed to provide protection in the event of an impact. But they can be used in conjunction with the seat belt for added trunk support and positioning.
  • Wheelchairs must never travel facing sideways or on an angle as these positions offer the least amount of protection from crash forces.
  • Wheelchairs should have their parking brakes applied and (if powered) their power units switched off during transportation. Powered wheelchairs should not be left in freewheel mode.
  • A headrest is recommended for transportation as they can considerably reduce the risk of whiplash injury in the event of an accident.
  • Do not transport a child with the lap tray still on the wheelchair. In the event of a crash it could cause severe abdominal injuries or become a projectile. Any other wheelchair accessories such as kerb climbers or knee-blocks that can easily be detached and become projectiles should be also be removed and stored.
  • Where possible, tilt-in-space or recline should not be used during transportation because it changes the body's centre of gravity.
  • Anti-tip wheels should be in the down position. Although they would be unlikely to hold in a crash situation, they add stability during normal driving starts, stops and turns.
  • If your child is involved in a vehicle accident, their wheelchair and the restraint system shouldn't be used again until they're checked by the manufacturer or an approved repair agent.
  • Contact your child's therapist if you have any questions or concerns about transportation.

Public transport

The BHTA (British Healthcare Trades Association) have a leaflet Get wise to using public transport which is available by emailing: bhta@bhta.com or by telephoning 020 7702 2141.

GOV.UK have information on travelling by train, coach, buses and bus passes, the disabled person's railcard and community transport (include taxi schemes) which is available on their website.

Rica have produced a guide to using a wheelchair on public transport.

Relevant standards

ISO 10542
This standard defines the design and performance requirements and the test methods for all wheelchair tie-down and occupant restraint systems.

ISO 7176 part 19
This standard defines the design, performance requirements and test methods for wheelchairs intended for use as a forward facing vehicle seat.

Further regulations may apply in countries outside the UK or Europe - you should seek local advice on any further requirements which may be applicable.

Further reading and information

Mobility Centres: Your nearest Drive Mobility Centre can offer assessment and advice on wheelchair passenger access and transportation as well as accessible vehicles.

Advice last checked: 26 February 2018 Next check due: 26 February 2021

All advice is either supported by references (cited in the text) or is based upon peer reviewed professional opinion. Our advice is impartial and not influenced by sponsors or product suppliers listed on the site.
Conflict of interest statement

References

  1. LifeTec 2009  Transporting Children in Vehicles
    View reference   Last visited:  12/12/2013
  2. MHRA 2001  Guidance on the safe transportation of wheelchairs
    View reference   Last visited:  12/12/2013
  3. Snell, M.A. 1999  Guidelines for safely transporting wheelchair users
    OT Practice   Vol.4(5)   p35-38
  4. Wakefield 2005  Home to school transport for children in wheelchairs
    View reference   Last visited:  12/12/2013
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