Each year, about 5,000 pedestrians are killed and another 76,000 are injured in collisions with motor vehicles. Crossing a road is particularly risky for the elderly and for other pedestrians who suffer from a loss of mobility. The greatest threat, however, may be posed to pedestrians who are using wheelchairs.

Two recent studies study points to the threat that wheelchair users face from negligent drivers. Pedestrians always face a risk of death or serious injury when they are the victims of a collision with a vehicle, but a recent study of fatal accidents involving pedestrians in wheelchairs concluded that wheelchair users have a 36% greater chance of dying in a collision than other pedestrians.

Locations of collisions with wheelchairs

Pedestrian accidents often occur when people try to dash across the middle of a busy road instead of crossing at the intersection. Wheelchair users, on the other hand, are more likely to cross streets at intersections. About half of all crashes that kill wheelchair users occur in intersections. More than a third happen in uncontrolled intersections, where no stoplight forces cars to stop for pedestrian traffic.

Wheelchair users were in a crosswalk in almost half of the fatal collisions that took place in intersections. No crosswalk was available in about 18% of the intersection collisions. The study of fatal accidents concluded that the poor design or maintenance of intersections poses a challenge to wheelchair users as they struggle to cross streets safely.

Characteristics of injury victims

Another recent study found that men in wheelchairs are 3.5 times more likely to be injured in a traffic accident than women in wheelchairs. Wheelchair users between the ages of 30 and 65 experienced the highest risk of injury. About three-quarters of injured wheelchair users were in a manual wheelchair, while the other quarter were operating a motorized wheelchair.

The study of fatal injuries found that men in wheelchairs who are between the ages of 50 to 64 are 75% more likely to die in traffic collisions than other male pedestrians of a similar age.

Traffic accident injuries suffered by wheelchair users

The legs and feet are the most common body parts of wheelchair users that are injured in accidents. Head and neck injuries, which are often the most serious injuries that accident victims experience, occurred in about one-fourth of collisions with wheelchair occupants.

Fractures were the principle diagnosis in about 16% of accidents involving wheelchair users. Another 11% of diagnoses concerned internal organ damage. Other injuries included serious cuts and blood loss, concussions and hematomas, amputation of a body part, and soft tissue damage.

Causes of collisions with wheelchairs

Almost 90% of fatal collisions occurred in fair weather, suggesting that poor visibility due to fog or rain is not usually a factor in fatal crashes with wheelchair users. On the other hand, about half of fatal collisions involving wheelchairs occur at night, when reduced visibility is likely to play a causative role in the crash. That statistic points to the need for drivers to slow down at night so they do not drive beyond their headlights, particularly when they are approaching intersections.

The driver’s alcohol or drug use was noted in about 9% of all fatal collisions with wheelchair users. The wheelchair user had been using alcohol or drugs in about 11% of the crashes.

Failure to yield to the wheelchair user is the most common driving behavior that the police reported in fatal crashes. While the police do not often record inattentive driving as a factor, in about three-quarters of the fatal accidents, there was no evidence that the driver made any maneuver to avoid striking the wheelchair. That suggests that drivers who collide with wheelchairs are not paying attention to the road.

It is also reasonable to believe that drivers who are looking for pedestrians in a crosswalk might not see wheelchair users, who may be less visible due to their lower profile. Drivers nevertheless have a duty to drive with care, which includes keeping a vigilant eye on the road at all times.