Motorized wheelchair operators get safety lesson on city driving

Motorized wheelchair operators got a lesson in safety on Wednesday afternoon.

The two-hour seminar, titled “Pedestrians on Wheels,” was held at the Center for Independent Living, 24 E. Third St., and introduced concepts of safety while driving a motorized wheelchair around the city.

The project has been in the works about two years, according to Chris Smith, of the Community Traffic Safety Project.

“We had local officials, concerned citizens, business owners, coming to us saying they were concerned about people in power chairs not being safe,” Smith said. “We started observing, and decided to do a survey – let’s see what they’re experiencing as people in power chairs. We got a lot of explanations why some were navigating traffic unsafely.”

Smith told the group of about 40 that through the survey, her group had “found you have reasons for cutting through cars and crossing unsafely. The biggest obstacle is the condition of the sidewalks.”

All attendees received a card for their chair or wallet with numbers on it for city codes enforcement and the non-emergency number of the county emergency communications center.

“If you see a sidewalk that you can’t use, use one of these numbers,” Smith said. “If you don’t hear anything, keep calling – it seems that the more people who raise a fuss about a place, the more likely something’s going to get done.”

The group played Safety Bingo, with numbers forthcoming after true-or-false questions. Some questions were easy: “True or false, alcohol is a drug that can make you walk or run your power chair unsafely.” Some were eye-opening factoids, such as “Do more pedestrian fatalities happen in the winter? Yes.” And, some were trickier: “Is wearing white enough to be visible at night?”

The answer was no, you need something more reflective. Smith and Nancy Yaudes modeled examples of neon shirts, flags and reflective stickers that can help someone in a power chair be seen more easily by drivers.

“Drivers are looking for other cars,” Smith said. “If you’re so low, they can’t see you. Especially those big, white trucks that are everywhere with the gas industry.

“Pennsylvania has one of the largest retirement populations in the country,” she said. “When I think of a pedestrian seeing someone, I think of them having 20/20 vision. I don’t want to tell you how many people out there driving don’t have 20/20 vision.”