The first thing to state about wheelchair crash testing is that different regions have their own standards or versions of the International Standard. For the purposes of clarification, this article refers to UK wheelchair crash testing. The priniciples will still apply elsewhere, but for actual brand and model certification, you will need to do your own research.
This article is for reference only and cannot and should not be used in isolation or be the basis upon which any equipment purchase or use is made.
The ISO standard that applies is "Wheelchairs -- Part 19: Wheelchair mobility devices for use as seats in motor vehicles." It was last reviewed in 2012 and ISO standards are reviewed every 5 years. To view the full document, you will have to click through to the link and buy it. But the below is their "Abstract" for the standard.
"ISO 7176-19:2008 applies to all manual and powered wheelchairs, including scooters, which, in addition to their primary function as wheeled mobility devices, are also likely to be used as forward-facing seats in motor vehicles by children and adults with a body mass equal to or greater than 22 kg. ISO 7176-19:2008 specifies wheelchair design requirements, performance requirements and associated test methods, and requirements for wheelchair labelling, presale literature, user instructions and user warnings. It applies to complete wheelchairs, including a base frame and seating system, as well as to wheelchairs equipped with add-on adaptive components designed to facilitate compliance with one or more of the requirements."
The USA uses a standard called RESNA WC-4:2012, Section 19 (WC-19) but you can read more on a University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute webpage here.
Another point to note is in order to gain crash test certification, each manufacturer has to send a number (5, I think) of that brand / model of wheelchairs to be tested.. and destroyed. So there are some companies who haven't resourced the cashflow to do this for whatever reason.
Note: crash testng applies to wheelchairs restrained by straps and wheelchairs with docking systems.
Who does Crash Testing affect or Who might need to see Crash Tested Certification?
If you have a manual wheelchair and transfer to a car seat to drive or be a passenger in your own car, the concept of wheelchair crash testing may be new to you. However, wheelchairs and crash testing affects a lot of people as the premise behind it is safety and the safe transportation of passengers who remain seated in their wheelchairs when transported. So the list can include (but by no means exhaustive):
How do I know what to look for regarding Crash Testing?
It would seem that even here there is variance and choice. Dahl Engineering offer the following advice:
The issues involved can seem overwhelming, but it would contribute significantly to improving safety if all parties involved in the area take responsibility and work together. We know that from experience.
We all have the responsibility that wheelchairs and occupants will be securely tie-down in a vehicle. Demand the following documentation:
Wheelchairs which are designed to be secured by restraints will have designed and designated points of attachment. These are built to withstand impact and restraining forces and should work if used correctly. And testing is done forward facing. Any system is only as strong as its weakest point. And on top of this, all equipment must be used correctly. I recommend Disabled Motoring UK's advice brochure: Travelling Safely in your Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV). Hampshire County Council offer useful information on Safe Travel in Wheelchairs with particular note given to having the confidence in speaking out if you are unhappy about how you are being handled or restrained in a vehicle. When you are setting out to get a vehicle converted, it is worth doing your research on the three elements BEFORE committing to a purchase or spend.
The takeaway here is that if you want to be conscious of your safety, then you need to consider 1) your wheelchair 2) your restraint strapping system (WTORS) and 3) the anchorage points together.
How do I know whether my wheelchair has been Crash Tested? Is there a list of Crash Tested Wheelchairs I can refer to?
The short answer to this, is that there doesn't seem to be any one absolute list and organisations which refer to crash tested wheelchairs are reluctant to hand one out in case it is abused. Consider, for example, where a transport company won't let you book a ride unless your wheelchair has been crash tested. The driver who actually transports you is unlikely to recognise what your chair is and so, in a game of cat and mouse, they don't want to be liable for telling you an acceptable answer or being seen to recommend one wheelchair over another. Hence, they'll check what you say against their list, but not give you access to the list.
If you are choosing a new wheelchair and want / need a wheelchair that has been tested, then simply ask the retailer / manufacturer before you get started on the whole sales and choice.
If you already have a chair or are considering buying a second hand wheelchair, then contact the manufacturer BEFORE you buy. Most manufacturers produce pages on their websites with lists of their crash tested wheelchairs. And you could always get in touch with the testers like Dahl Engineering who should be impartial and can advice of any conditions around the testing.
Why do we bother with Crash Testing Wheelchairs?
On the face of it, it can seem a little like more restrictions and regulations for and around wheelchair users who's lives are already cluttered with barriers and red tape purgatory. There will always be a discrepancy between good practice and on-the-ground implementation. As an example, this Apparelyzed forum thread shows the opposing arguments.
The preferred option is always to travel in the original manufacturer vehicle seat. But where this is not possible or practical then the manual or powered wheelchair and user can be restrained with a suitable “wheelchair tie-down and occupant restraint system” or WTORS. As you might expect, there are a variety of systems and it's worth researching which system will work best with your wheelchair.
I don't like car crash videos. However, I am going to display THREE here with different situations in order to demonstrate the validity of safety. There are plenty of test videos available online if you want to investigate this further. A quick search will show you crash test passes and fails. Note the circumstances (speed and weight) they test under and then apply that to your own likely situations and it's clear that there is a real case for reducing your exposure to injury or death. Also, bear in mind that correct restraint not only keeps you safe, but all the other passengers so that you or your chair don't fly about on impact which could kill or seriously injure other passengers.
These samples show what can go wrong in different situations and are all taken from Dahl Engineering (thank you):
Above: Example of a crash test according to ISO 7176-19 - a manual wheelchair with a 4 point tie down system
The tie-down equipment used during this test, lived up to ISO 10542-2 but if the equipment is not installed/used correctly it can still go terribly wrong. The adjuster of the lap belt was damaged by a metal part on the wheelchair frame, which caused the safety belt to tear and threw the occupant out of the wheelchair. It is extremely important that the tie-down equipment be used correctly.
Above: example of a crash test according to ISO 7176-19 - a power wheelchair with a 4 point tie down system.
The anchorage points for the tie-down straps were torn off the wheelchair frame. As a consequence, the wheelchair and user was thrown through the air. Before the lap belt was torn, it cut with enormous force the abdomen area of the occupant. The tie-down anchorage points had to be reinforced.
Above: example of a crash test according to ISO 7176-19 & 10542 - a power wheelchair with a docking system.
A sharp bracket causes the lap belt to get torn on the right side of the wheelchair, while holding in the other. This causes the shoulder belt to cut with an enormous force from just under the ribs towards the head, resulting in tearing off the head of the occupant (decapitated). Safety belt’s webbing should not be worn or twisted and must be protected against sharp edges and corners. Occupant is decapitated, due to the occupant restraint being torn by a sharp edge on the right side of the wheelchair.
When using your wheelchair as a replacement seat within a vehicle:
Finally, we'd like to ask you to BE SAFE. And because this topic, videos and images can be quite harrowing, we'd like you to take away a more comforting image with you: