Fatal car crashes are more likely among wheelchair-bound pedestrians, a recent study published in BMJ Open has shown.
Research was conducted by experts at Georgetown University in Washington D.C., led by John Kraemer, assistant professor of health systems administration at Georgetown’s School of Nursing and Health Studies.
The starting point of the study was based on statistics provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which showed that approximately 76,000 pedestrians are hurt in traffic accidents every year, and around 5,000 succumb to their wounds.
The purpose was to determine how many of these fatal casualties involve wheelchair users, by reviewing data collected through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), as well as journalistic documents related to car crashes, made available through the LexisNexis network.
It was discovered that around 528 wheelchair-bound pedestrians had been the victims of traffic accidents on U.S. roads, from 2006 until 2012.
This means that in comparison with other wayfarers, wheelchair users faced a 36% higher risk of being fatally injured in a car crash.
In addition, the likelihood of dying in a vehicle collision was more than 5 times higher among men who required a wheelchair, than among their female counterparts. The most vulnerable were mobility-impaired men aged between 50 and 64.
Even more alarmingly, in around 78% of the fatal accidents investigated by researchers, the drivers hadn’t made any detectable effort to prevent the crash, while in 21% of the cases victims had been denied the right-of-way.
Around half (47.5%) of the traffic collisions had taken place at junctions, and in 18% of these instances there had been no pedestrian walkway to ensure a safe crossing.
Moreover, in around 39% of the intesection collisions, there had been no stoplights, and traffic flow hadn’t been directed and optimized by police officers.
As Kraemer points out, when pedestrian crossings are absent and inadequate for wheelchair users, or when there are insufficient efforts undertaken to streamline traffic, roadside casualties are much more frequent.
As prior studies speculate, this may be because people confined to a wheelchair are lower to the ground in contrast with other pedestrians, which makes them more difficult to spot by drivers, and also much more vulnerable to being fatally injured.
Indeed, like the study indicates, in 15% of the fatal crashes wheelchair users hadn’t been visible enough, making it harder to avoid the collision.
Aside from the fact that they tend to be more inconspicuous, their velocity can’t be estimated so easily, and their routes, reactions and movements are harder to anticipate in comparison with those pertaining to other traffic participants.
In addition, they may also already have other underlying health issues associated with their condition, which puts them at a higher risk of suffering complications after falling victim to a traffic collision.
According to Rory Cooper, director of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories at the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, mobility-impaired individuals are more imperiled in traffic also because it takes them longer to move out of the way of incoming vehicles, and they are forced to use streets more often due to insufficient curb cuts.
Given these findings, which indicate that wheelchair users face higher fatality odds when involved in a car accident, study authors believe that urban planners should focus more on people with disabilities, by accommodating their specific needs.
This could be done by re-designing sidewalks and street crossings, in order to create more wheelchair-accessible routes.
In addition, greater awareness should be raised among car drivers, regarding the fact that they should be more attentive and careful when interacting with wheelchair users, so as to avoid potentially fatal collisions.
Mobility-impaired persons should also take steps to safeguard their own lives, by asking for assistance at dangerous intersections, by making sure they have enough time to cross the street, and by wearing reflective clothing.
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