Is your accessible vehicle safe?

Women turning a steering wheel in a vehicle.

When you’re first out looking for an adapted vehicle you might not consider safety as an issue. Maybe you’re thinking: “It’s built into a car, it has to be safe!”. Unfortunately, that is not at all the case.

Adapting a vehicle for someone with a disability will in many countries cause the vehicle to fall a different category in terms of safety requirement. In some countries, it is approved by the road authorities as an exception from rules and regulations.

This is both good and bad. It’s good because in most countries the rules and regulations do not include various adaptations which in reality makes them illegal. It’s bad because it also puts all the responsibility on you. You must seek out an adaptation workshop you can trust and in turn, they must ensure that the parts used have been tested and approved according to what is applicable.

Technician talking to a customer sitting in a car seat.Finding a safe professional

Vehicle adaptation is highly responsible work and the fact is that most people choose to work in this industry because they believe in equal rights and opportunities.

However, as with everything, there can be the odd bad apple. Always take the time to investigate your supplier. Are they recommended by local authorities, do they have a good reputation, do they have the proper training to conduct the work, are they members of industry organisations? Finding a company that ticks all these boxes can be difficult depending on where you are located. Sometimes a good reputation is all you need to feel that you are in good hands.

Safe products

When it comes to adaptation products there are two categories. Custom built and mass-produced. The custom-built products are things made by your adaptation technician. These can be inspected by a Road Authority agent but sometimes they are not.

The mass-produced products are a whole different thing. In some areas for example belts and wheelchair tie-downs. There are rules and regulations that must be followed but for other products, it is entirely up to the manufacturer to ensure that what they produce is safe.

Here are some of the things you can look for in a manufacturer or their products.

Standards and guidelines in relation to the manufacturing company

ISO 9001 certification
A company that is ISO 9001 certified has chosen to work with a set of guiding principles. These principles specify the requirements for an organisations quality management system in two major focus areas: Customer satisfaction and regulatory requirements. The latest version of this standard is ISO 9001:2015

In short, an ISO 9001 certification isn’t proof of quality in itself, but it does show that a company takes quality seriously and follows what is regarded as best practice.

  

Standards and guidelines in relation to products

  • CE Labelling 
    For a product to be granted a CE label, a number of risk analyses must be performed, which must also be accompanied by descriptive documentation in line with the selected standard.
  • Declaration of conformity
    This is a document that will tell you what standards a product fulfils. The document should be directly linked to the product in one way or another. For example, via a serial number. 
  • ISO 10542
    The objective of this standard is to provide effective protection for wheelchair seated occupant of a motor vehicle. In layman’s terms, if you intend to stay seated in your wheelchair during travel make sure that everything that holds you and your wheelchair in place is approved to this standard.
  • ECE R10, ECE R14 and ECE R17
    As part of an international agreement on vehicle safety, these regulations can tell you if a product is safe to use. To bear the marking the product needs to pass the applicable tests as dictated by the regulation.

    ECE R10 deals with electromagnetic compatibility and ensures that the product is not affected by or causes interference with other electronics.

    ECE R14 deals with the seat itself and seat belt anchorages. ECE R14 mandates that the product must pass certain pull tests.

    ECE R17 deals with seats, seat anchorages and head restraints. For example, adaptations such as swivel seats and seat lifts. ECE R17 mandates that the product must pass certain crash tests.

Product testing

Some manufacturers choose to test their products. One reason for these tests is to ensure that the products can bear some of the markings mentioned above. Other reasons include quality assurance, safety goals and customer satisfaction. A manufacturer that is serious about safety and quality is guaranteed to do some form of testing. 

  • Crash test
    To simulate a car crash, the product is accelerated to a set speed of before being brought to a complete stop. This form of testing is performed to ensure that the design is safe. In crash testing, it is also common to use crash test dummies to simulate how a real person using the product would affect the outcome.   
  • Pull test
    The product is subjected to a traction force for a given period of time. The results of the test are used to select a design or material. 
  • Climate test
    The product undergoes operational testing at various temperatures, to ensure its performance under certain weather conditions. 
  • Life cycle
    The product is operated in full cycles, usually while under load. The purpose is to simulate everyday use as closely as possible: in other words, to perform a complete life cycle. 
  • EMC test
    The product’s electronics are tested to ensure that they do not interfere with the other electronics in the vehicle. 
  • Vibration test
    The product is exposed to vibration for a given period of time. Vibration testing is performed to ensure that the design and fixings are safe.

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