Are Wheelchair Users More Likely to be Involved in Car Accidents?

By Peter DePaolis

A recent analysis of U.S. crash data by the journal BMJ Open Access shows wheelchair users are 36 percent more likely to die in crashes with cars compared to pedestrians not bound to wheelchairs. The study, conducted by experts at Georgetown University in Washington D.C., began by reviewing data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) and news stories related to pedestrian wheelchair accidents and other car crashes.

While the data doesn’t necessarily show why wheelchair users are more likely to die than other pedestrians, experts speculate the following are causes that may increase the likelihood of a fatal accident:

  • Drivers are less likely to see wheelchair users, delaying reaction time
  • Wheelchair users are closer to the ground and are hit squarely, which can cause more serious injuries
  • Wheelchair users sometimes have preexisting medical conditions that make them more susceptible to fatal injuries
  • Wheelchair users do not maneuver or react the same as other pedestrians do in the face of an oncoming collision
  • Roads and sidewalks are not designed to accommodate people with disabilities

In data collected from 2006 to 2012, roughly 528 pedestrian wheelchair users were killed in traffic collisions, which is a marginally higher death rate than the general population.

What Can I Do to Protect From Pedestrian Wheelchair Accidents?

People with disabilities make up approximately 20 percent of the U.S. population. While the Americans with Disabilities Act created the “Curb Ramps and Pedestrian Crossings” requirement to accommodate pedestrian wheelchair users, it is not necessarily effective in protecting them. That is, in part, up to the driver. To help keep those who are in a wheelchair safe, drivers can do the following:

  • Approach all crossings with caution, even if you have the right of way
  • Stop within five feet of a crosswalk
  • Wait for pedestrians who are disabled to use the curb ramps
  • Always look before you turn, especially when you’re turning right on a red light
  • Never engage in distracted driving, like texting or talking on the phone

According to the study in the journal BMJ Open Access, approximately half of all fatal crashes happened in intersections. Roughly 39 percent of those intersections did not have any traffic control devices, such as stop signs or stoplights. Of those intersection crashes, 48 percent involved a pedestrian wheelchair user. Of that group, 18 percent of those cases had no crosswalk available to the wheelchair users.

That said, cities need to look at dangerous intersections and make changes that accommodate pedestrians with disabilities (ahem, we’re looking at you, Washington, D.C.).

Our D.C. Personal Injury Lawyers Can Help

The personal injury attorneys at Koonz, McKenney, Johnson & DePaolis L.L.P. are long-time advocates for people with disabilities and fight to ensure any involved in pedestrian accidents in the Washington, D.C. areas receive justice. Contact us today.


About the Author
Peter DePaolis joined the firm in 1980 and has since represented a large number of individuals involved in automobile collisions, truck accidents, bus crashes, defective products, and medical malpractice cases. A significant portion of Mr. DePaolis’ practice is devoted to working on behalf of people suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. He has led his firm’s fight against the asbestos industry and has recovered over $30 million in damages for asbestos victims and their families.