Wheelchair safety belt question


Senior Community Member
Does anyone know if it is legal for a WC-19 approved wheelchair to be anchored in the vehicle correctly, but then only securing the occupant with a lap belt (and not a lap-shoulder belt).
Of course it's safer to use the lap-shoulder, but I'm wondering if it's even legal to use a lap-belt only?
Thanks in advance!


New member
I have been told it is legal by a wheelchair vendor and seems common around here. It doesn't seem like best practice to me. I am going to a lecture about transporting kids with special needs in June. I hope to get lots of great info!


Moderator - CPS Technician
What does the manual for the wheelchair in question say? If the manual says lap/shoulder, and you are in a proper use state, then no. From a safety standpoint, I would think wheelchair+lap only belt would actually be worse than vehicle seat with lap only, since the front legs of the wheelchair would be taking on a lot more force than they are designed to handle as the occupant's upper body gets thrown forward. If those legs or the front wheels were to buckle, well, it wouldn't be pretty.

An Aurora

Senior Community Member
I remember my instructor from my SN class mentioning that it was legal, because I remember thinking that was pretty scary :eek:. I don't know if it's only with certain models that allow it, though.


Ok, a little confused here. But here is a quote from the SN book. Page 49, under Integrated lap belt option.

"If the lap belt is crashworthy, it will be labeled that it complies with WC19 and will allow connection to a vehicle-mounted shoulder belt to form a three-point restraint system. A revised version of WC19 will soon require compliant wheelchairs to offer a crashworthy five-point harness for children who weigh less that 50 lb and some manufacturers are already offering this feature."

Judi's DH

Senior Community Member
Yes it is legal, but not best practice.

"The lap belt should fit low over the pelvis and hips and should be angled between 30 and 75 degrees to the horizontal, when viewed from the side. Some wheelchair features, like armrests can interfere with good belt fit. To avoid placing the lap belt over the arm rest and to keep the lap belt low on the pelvis, it may be necessary to insert the belt between the arm rest and seat back, or through am opening under the arm rest."


Senior Community Member
IMO transport in a WC is scary and the seat belt is the least of the worries.

1) The first rule of child restraint use is a seat that "will be used correctly EVERY time." WC tie downs are tricky to use. It's easy to miss a strap (guilty :whistle:), get one twisted or less than rock solid, or not get it anchored on the frame correctly. I was shocked to see one friend's chair "anchored" at the foot rest (a removeable piece) or very low on the frame after the official anchor points broke off (the chair base is 6 years old, so when you figure there are 4 trips per day for a "normal" school day, that's alot of wear and tear).

2) If there's lots of support on the WC (laterals, raised sides for hips/thighs), it's tricky to actually get the belt routed around the chair, much less keep it low on the hips/pelvis.

3) Power chairs are SUPER heavy so the thought of ANY crash while transporting in one of those scares me (probably because several of my young friends are power chair users).

Then I think about their siblings riding beside/behind the chair. 28" (or more because the bench in one van has center only LATCH/top tether for 2 kids in CRs) of head excursion = face plant into metal. :eek:

4) Most families have a minivan (mostly because of COST), so it is very tight quarters to maneuver the chair up the ramp and into position for tie downs. As the child grows, so does the chair, making it even harder (if not impossible) to have the WC ff ing, especially for families with backseat passengers.

Sure, you could customize the van so the child in the WC rides in the 'way back,' but then you loose ALL storage, can't hand them a sippy cup, book or snack. It's also harder to communicate, especially for kids with speech impairments or who use gestures or communication boards.

5) Then there's the tray issue. If you take it off, (you're supposed to) where do you put it so it isn't a projectile? In some cases, the tray helps provide upper body support or is how the child "holds" a cup or book, and/or supports the communication system. For some reason, the van customizers don't address this need.

:eek: Sorry. Rant over. After spending so much time discussing needs, researching and choosing very expensive equipment, waiting FOREVER for all the authorizations to be completed and the work actually done, its frustrating to still have safety concerns and significant mechanical, design or ease of use issues. And ALL of families I work with have had problems and concerns.


It really seems like this is a big issue. With so many more premature babies surviving earlier, CP especially is becoming more common. I was a personal aid in college for a teen who has CP and uses a power chair. She had a lapbelt only and her chair was secured to the big van by locking a bolt on the bottom of her chair into a lock in the floor of the van. An alarm sounded if the van was started and the chair was not properly locked. Sometimes it took a lot of effort- trying and then trying again- to get it properly placed. To me this seems better for such a heavy chair than tiedowns, but harnessing the upper body is still a problem, especially for people who do not require that trunk support outside the car. I am an OT, and we learned that lap belts are supposed to come out at a 45 degree angle when the client is sitting at 90 degrees. A properly fitted belt in a chair should fit properly as far as car safety goes, but I know that doesn't always happen. Wow...that's a lot to think about.


Senior Community Member
Thanks for all the input everyone! Whenever possible, I insist that the children be transferred to car seats for our community re-entry outings...but of course not every child can actually be transferred... and not every parent will be physically able/willing to transfer their child out of the WC after discharge. It's definitely an issue!!

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