Washington D.C. – Researchers from Georgetown University’s School of Medicine analyzed the vulnerability of wheelchair users and found that they are 36% more likely to die from car collisions compared to other pedestrians. Men are more than five times at higher risk than women.

The study reveals that over 75,000 pedestrians are wounded in public roads annually, and approximately 5,000 of them die. When investigators compared different types of pedestrians, they discovered that those who use wheelchairs are 36% more likely to get killed. Researchers studied data from 2006 to 2012 provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, which is made up by police and news reports of accidents.

The study found that people in wheelchair are more vulnerable of being killed by a car crash. Credit: Nowtech.hu
The study found that people in wheelchair are more vulnerable of being killed by a car crash. Credit: Nowtech.hu

According to the analysis, nearly 50 percent of fatal accidents happened in intersections involving a wheelchair user in a crosswalk. In about 18 percent of cases, there was no crosswalk available and around 39 percent of the total occurred in areas with no traffic control devices such as stoplights.

The data does not explain why wheelchair users seem to be more vulnerable than other kinds of pedestrians, but the results suggest that city planners should take into account methods to make sidewalks safer, as pointed out by study co-author John Kraemer of the Department of Health Systems Administration at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

“It is entirely possible that people who use wheelchairs may be at greater risk of death if they are in a pedestrian crash perhaps because drivers are less likely to see them, brake, and collide slower; because being lower to the ground wheelchair users may be hit more squarely; or because some people who use wheelchairs may have pre-existing medical vulnerabilities,” Kraemer inferred by email.

Rory Cooper, director of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories at the University of Pittsburg in Pennsylvania, recommends wheelchair pedestrians to abstain from using intersections when they do not have enough time or ask for help to cross faster. He also suggests them to use reflective clothing, as it might make them more visible.

However, Cooper, who is not involved in the study, emphasizes that drivers have the most responsibility. He affirms that they should take into account that people in wheelchairs do not move or react just like others do and commented that pedestrians who use manual chairs might have a harder time at avoiding a collision than those in power wheelchairs.

As for further recommendation to drivers, Kraemer said they should pay more attention and avoid using mobile devices when driving. In addition, he reminded them not to be only aware of wheelchair users, but also of bicyclists and other pedestrians such as people with disabilities that do not react in the exact same way that they may expect.

Source: Reuters