What Are the Wheelchair Transportation Regulations?

The US federal government and the State of Washington impose some very strict regulations on how common carriers, such as buses, trains, planes, and ferries, can treat passengers in wheelchairs. Knowing these wheelchair transportation regulations can tell you what you can expect from your transportation service.

“Wheelchairs” Includes Scooters

Any scooter that meets the requirements of Section 37.3 of the Department of Transportation regulations for the Americans with Disabilities Act is treated as a wheelchair. Wheelchairs are defined as conveyances with three or more wheels, powered by hand or by an electric motor, which are designed for use by people who have mobility impairments.

Of course, most wheelchairs have four or six wheels. They might have a power wheel attached to the back to make it easier to drive in a straight line. Most wheelchairs have a much tighter turning radius than scooters. 

Scooters are more challenging to load onto a vehicle than wheelchairs. But the law requires any common carrier that accepts wheelchairs to also accept scooters. You cannot be refused transportation just because you get around in a scooter.

Wheelchairs Can Be Heavy

Some wheelchairs weigh less than 100 pounds. Some scooters weigh as much as 600 pounds. Your transportation service is required to use their lift to accommodate your wheelchair or scooter, even if it is very heavy when it is loaded.

The ability to lift a 600-pound load with a wheelchair or scooter as large as 38 inches by 48 inches is the minimum requirement for common carriers, and the Americans with Disabilities Act requires common carriers to accommodate wheelchair passengers. 

However, this doesn’t mean that there are no limits at all to how heavy your wheelchair or scooter can be. The carrier isn’t expected to carry a wheelchair or scooter that weighs more than the capacity of their lifting device.

For instance, if your scooter weighs 500 pounds, and you weigh 150 pounds, and a common carrier has a lift that is safety-rated for an 800-pound load, they are expected to use it to accommodate your scooter. But if your scooter weighs 500 pounds, and you weigh 150 pounds, and a common carrier has a lift that is rated for 600 pounds, they have a right to decline you as a passenger.

Bus operators can also refuse to transport people in wheelchairs or scooters when there are legitimate safety concerns, as in the case of a wheelchair that would block an aisle so that other passengers could not get out of the bus in the event of an emergency.

Around the Sound is happy to answer all your questions about heavy wheelchairs and scooters and will work with you to accommodate your needs. You can

Bus Operators Are Required to Allow Passengers to Enter Facing the Vehicle

Some lifts are designed for wheelchair passengers to back up into them, entering the vehicle backward. Federal law does not permit bus operators to require their passengers to face away from the vehicle when they are entering the lift. That is because the law requires that any wheelchair that goes into the bus should be allowed to exit out of the bus.

As a practical matter, there are times that you might want to back into the lift to enter the bus. Backing into the lift places the heaviest part of the lift or motorized wheelchair closest to the fulcrum of the lift. If you and your wheelchair or scooter are very close to the weight limit of the lift, backing in reduces the small possibility of damage. Federal law gives you the choice of whether you back in or not, but sometimes this can be better for you and helpful to the driver.

Other Important Federal Regulations for Wheelchair Transportation

Here are some other federal regulations for wheelchair transportation you need to know:

  • Wheelchairs and scooters are not required to have brakes. If your wheelchair or scooter has brakes, you are not required to use them. However, you must allow your driver to strap you in for safety. Common carriers are required to have a two-part system of safety straps, one for the wheelchair or scooter, and the other for the passenger in the wheelchair or scooter. Passengers can decline to be personally strapped in, but their wheelchair or scooter must be strapped in for safety.
  • You can be required to use a seat belt and/or safety harness if every passenger on the vehicle is required to use a seat belt and/or safety harness.
  • Wheelchair passengers are entitled to transfer to a seat once they are on the bus, but the driver is not required to transfer them. If you would like this service, speak with Around the Sound when you schedule your trip so we can provide it for you.
  • Around the Sound provides comfortable transportation for passengers in wheelchairs and scooters and for the people in their party traveling with them. However, federal rules only require one space for wheelchairs and scooters on vehicles less than 22 feet long, and two spaces for vehicles 22 feet long or longer. If multiple people in your party use wheelchairs or scooters, please let us know when you are booking your trip.

The State of Washington has specific safety regulations about where wheelchairs and scooters can be off-loaded. Your driver cannot allow you to get off the bus into a street or highway.

Around the Sound transports people in wheelchairs and scooters to destinations all over the state. Whether it is a doctor’s appointment, a party, a wedding, Around the Sound makes it possible for people who need assistance getting around to participate in all the activities their lives offer them. Call Around the Sound at (253) 858-7088 or contact Around the Sound online to book your trip today!