To travel in a vehicle in your wheelchair is a choice that some people with mobility impairment have to make. For the most part, they choose this method to not have to transfer out of their wheelchairs, but on investigation, this can be quite a risky and definitely an extremely expensive and time-consuming option.
Within South Africa, the authorities have not legislated requirements as yet, but have a recommended Code of Practice, which states that the wheelchair has to be fixed or tied down separately to the person sitting in it.
There are obviously many people who just make their own home-made devices, but these are certainly a dangerous option, as they may not have been crash-tested as in the systems that are imported from the European countries, where extreme restrictions and legislation exist.
Systems usually consist of a set of tie-downs to secure the wheelchair. A separate safety harness is used to secure the person. Both these systems are then attached to the vehicle using aircraft-type tracking or individual mounting points.
The more basic and cheaper options require manual tensioning, which means that the person doing the tensioning must be quite strong to get the straps tight. Another down-side to this system is that when they are not in use, the straps, which are quite long, are messy and could represent a hazard lying on the floor of the vehicle.
The more sophisticated systems, like the ones using inertia and or in-line reels, are a much better option as they take less time to set up, and when not in use, the straps are tidily kept out of the way.
The passenger safety harnesses also range from just a lap strap only, lap and diagonal or full harness. These passenger systems can be supplied as either manual tension or retractable inertia reels. The choice of personal restraint can also depend on the person’s disability, as some systems offer more support than others.
The possible configuration of the equipment and rest of the seating will depend on the vehicle type. This means that specialist fitting is essential. With all the different options, prices for these systems, including fitting and VAT, range from R1 500.00 to R23 000.00
In order to make use of the Tie Down system, you have to be able to get into the vehicle in the first place. This means more money. You have to look at either ramps or a hoist system which can further add anything between R4 000.00 and R45 000.00 to your costs.
The correct choice of vehicle is imperative. On many occasions vehicles are bought without the necessary investigations being undertaken prior to purchase and are then found to be unsuitable. (See Caroline’s article in this issue on how to get your vehicle rebate). Deal only with specialist suppliers and get comparative costings before making a final decision on both vehicle and restraint system.
As I said earlier, I have seen many homemade systems which would probably not restrain the wheelchair or occupant in an accident. Sometimes, when the vehicle does have a good restraint system, passengers are transported without being secured, due to time constraints or negligence on the part of both the driver and the wheelchair user.
I cannot stress enough that we need to have some legislation brought into this country to ensure that we are protected properly.
That said; these systems are wonderful if you have the means to have your own vehicle personally adapted. But what happens if you are travelling domestically, or can’t afford a personally adapted vehicle?
Well in South Africa, I am unhappy to report, we have very little recourse to anything else. As discussed in previous issues, our entire public transport system is not wheelchair friendly at all.
Minibus Taxis are not keen to even stop for people in wheelchairs, and certainly would not have the necessary space or time to make this option even remotely viable. So what other options do we have?
Not very many I’m afraid.
BUT in Gauteng we are lucky. We have ONE taxi company, SA Cab, who run a fleet of London Taxis which are all fitted out to be completely “Disability Friendly”. They have ramps and tie-down systems and will assist in getting you properly set up for travel in your wheelchair. Just remember, the meter will be running while they are doing this!
AND there is ONE Car hire facility, Budget Door2Door Specialised, who have completely fitted out a vehicle for hire, with a hoist and the best tie-down system available.
AND QASA also has ONE vehicle available to transport members.
What about the other provinces? Where is the Nationalisation of useable transport systems? And with all our tourists, how are they supposed to manage? All issues that we need to start looking into.
While I’m on the subject, how do you get around in your South Africa? Is travel a joy or a drag?
Mail me your onions and orchids: firstname.lastname@example.org
In the meantime – Happy, Safe Travels!