Questions and Answers:
What is a "Wheelchair"?
Section 37.3 of the DOT regulations implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) (49 CFR Parts 27, 37, and 38) defines a “wheelchair” as a mobility aid belonging to any class of three- or more-wheeled devices, usable indoors, designed or modified for and used by individuals with mobility impairments, whether operated manually or powered.
Is an Electric Scooter a Wheelchair?
Yes, provided that the electric scooter meets the definition of “wheelchair” in Section 37.3 of the DOT ADA regulations
What Kinds of Securement Equipment Must Be Provided in Buses and Vans?
Section 38.23(d) of the DOT ADA regulations requires all ADA-compliant buses and vans to have a two-part securement system, one to secure the wheelchair, and a seat belt and shoulder harness for the wheelchair user. Section 38.23(a) requires vehicles over 22 feet in length to have enough securement locations and devices to secure two wheelchairs, while vehicles 22 feet and under must be able to accommodate at least one wheelchair.
Does a Wheelchair User Have to Use the Seat Belt and Shoulder Harness?
Under the broad nondiscrimination provisions in Section 37.5 of the DOT ADA regulations, a transit operator is not permitted to mandate the use by wheelchair users of seat belts and shoulder harnesses, unless the operator mandates the use of these devices by all passengers, including those sitting in vehicle seats. For example, on fixed route buses, if none of the other passengers are required to wear shoulder belts then neither can the person in the mobility device be required to do so.
Transit operators may establish a policy that requires the seat belt and shoulder harness to be used by all riders, including those who use wheelchairs as well as those who use vehicle seats, if seat belts and shoulder harnesses are provided at all seating locations. In some cases, state law could require an operator to adopt such a policy.
When developing seat-belt-use policies, it must be stressed that Section 38.23(d)(7) prohibits the use of the seat belt and shoulder harness in lieu of securing the wheelchair itself. If the passenger’s wheelchair cannot be secured, or cannot be secured adequately to the satisfaction of both passenger and transit personnel, the seat belt and shoulder harness must not be used.
Many state seat belt laws also contain provisions exempting certain types of vehicles (such as buses and taxis) from compliance, as well as exceptions for persons who cannot use a seat belt for medical reasons. Any seat-belt-use policy established by a transit operator should reflect such provisions.