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Campaign raises fears over ‘unsafe’ vehicle conversions

Campaign raises fears over ‘unsafe’ vehicle conversions
17th May 2012 developer

Some wheelchair-accessible vehicles (WAVs) are potentially unsafe for passengers or drivers travelling in their wheelchairs, and should never have been allowed on the roads, claim campaigners.

The campaigning user-led charity Disabled Motoring UK (DM UK) spoke out as it joined Constables Mobility – a leading conversion company – to launch a campaign calling for stricter testing of WAVs.

The No Compromises! campaign calls on the government to make it illegal for any WAV model to be allowed on the road without first undergoing strict “sled” testing.

It is also urging disabled customers to ask for a certificate of sled testing before they buy a WAV, and is calling on the Motability car scheme to stop leasing WAVs that are not “sled tested”.

Helen Dolphin, DM UK’s director of policy and campaigns, said: “I want Motability to take note and realise that this is something that should be done.

“They should stop accepting cars onto their scheme unless they have had all the proper checks.”

A sled test involves strapping a crash-test dummy into a wheelchair within the car, which is put through head-on collisions to check that the belts and their fixtures are strong enough to withstand an accident and keep the wheelchair-user secure.

DM UK and Constables say the extra test is vital because of the significant and complex changes made to cars when they are converted to become wheelchair-accessible.

Figures on accidents involving WAVs are not collected so it is impossible to say how many wheelchair-users may have been injured or even killed because of problems with the conversions of their vehicles.

But Dolphin said: “It is amazing that vehicles are being sold that may not be safe for the drivers and their disabled passengers, and we feel strongly that this must stop.

“Until a car has had that kind of test, there is no guarantee that it will hold or restrain a wheelchair-user if they have had an accident.”

She added: “I don’t want to drive anybody out of business but at the end of the day the most important thing here is disabled people’s safety.”

A Motability spokeswoman said that standards for all their conversions were governed by European Union law and backed by industry bodies such as the Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle Converters Association (WAVCA).

She said: “All WAVs supplied to Motability customers are compliant with EU and UK regulations, in place at the time of the vehicle registration, as well as adopting any additional standards agreed and required by WAVCA.”

But when asked how many Motability vehicles had not been sled tested, and whether Motability would take any action to ensure all vehicles were sled tested, she refused to comment.

Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat local transport minister, said he welcomed DM UK’s “commitment to ensuring wheelchair-users travel in safety” and shared that objective.

He added: “All vehicles need to meet a range of safety rules to enable them to operate on the road. This ensures that good levels of protection are offered to the driver and passengers.”

But he said: “We have seen no convincing evidence to show that the approval system for converted vehicles needs changing, or that road safety is being compromised as a result of vehicles being modified post-registration. However, we will continue to monitor this closely with industry.”