Mobility vans are customized especially for handicapped individuals who rely on a wheelchair for mobility and need a safe vehicle to transport them from place to place.

However, wheelchair users also need to use a restraint system in case of an accident, just like how regular vehicles require seatbelts.

In this guide, we discuss the different types of wheelchair restraints and how to properly use them for optimal safety and comfort. Buckle up, let’s go!

The Advantages of Using Wheelchair Belt Restraints

Understandably, a first-timer using a mobility van might feel nervous about being fully strapped in. Still, it’s absolutely necessary to lower the risk of injury in case of an accident or sudden stop.

An individual in a wheelchair with harness restraint on the chest part

Plus, wheelchair harness restraints also offer other benefits besides safety.

Wheelchair Vehicle Restraints Make it Easier to Enter and Exit

Transitioning a wheelchair from the ground into a mobility van can be tricky. Combining a ramp with tie-downs or restraints can stabilize the chair and make it easier to move it into the van without much hassle.

It Requires Less Effort

Wheelchair transfers require several steps to get the job done correctly, making it a stressful and tiring ordeal for the wheelchair user or caregiver.

Restraints take the pressure off the upper body so that the wheelchair user can maneuver into the best position without too much physical strain.

Different Types of Wheelchair Restraint Systems

Next up, we explain the different wheelchair restraints in vehicles and how each one works.

Each restraint is designed to prevent the wheelchair from bouncing around, rolling unexpectedly, or bumping into other passengers or walls while the vehicle is in motion.

Most restraint wheelchair systems feature a universal design that works with most types of manual and electric wheelchairs.

Though each system is slightly different, all of them do an exceptional job at increasing the safety of the passengers.

The three main types of wheelchair tie-down systems are non-retractable/manual, retractable, and electric/automatic docking.

  • The non-retractable/manual system: This basic and affordable restraint consists of a 4-point tie-down system with straps that must be manually secured and released.
  • The retractable system: This is also a 4-point tie-down system where the straps automatically retract into a housing compartment when tightened or released. 
  • The electric/automatic docking system: This is a convenient system that locks the chair in place when it’s pushed onto a professionally installed rail.
A man with wheelchair tie down straps in a car

How to Use Non-Retractable Restraints

Non-retractable or “manual” wheelchair tie-down straps are just that- they won’t snap back into a housing compartment like retractable straps or even like conventional car seatbelts when released.

Instead, the wheelchair needs to be positioned correctly so the straps can be tightened and disengaged with ease.

To use non-retractable restraints, place the wheelchair in the middle of the four anchor points. The anchors are located on the floor of the vehicle.

There are four restraints that attach to the anchor points. Pull the restraints and hook each one onto the body of the wheelchair, then tighten the straps using a ratchet if necessary.

Since non-retractable straps don’t automatically recoil when released, they tend to get in the way, which can be annoying to deal with when you’re trying to transfer a wheelchair.

However, this is the least expensive option of the three systems. Manual restraints are ideal for wheelchair users who have another person ready to assist with securing them into the vehicle.

A woman with retractable wheelchair restraints in a car

How to Use Retractable Restraints

As you can probably guess, retractable wheelchair tie-downs for vans pick up the slack of the manual variety…literally! This makes them the most popular option for users.

They work in the same way, with four wheelchair tie-down points that are pulled out from a rail and secured on the wheelchair body.

It’s important to ensure there is no slack in the straps once the wheelchair is strapped in. When it’s time to undo the straps, a button releases them back into the housing compartment and out of the way.

While it helps to have an assistant handy to secure the user properly, retractable wheelchair restraints do make it easier for the user to independently secure themselves if needed.

Automatic docking and a wheelchair in a car

How to Use the Automatic Docking System

The most convenient wheelchair tie-down for vans is automatic docking, which secures wheelchair users who are positioned in the driver’s seat.

It’s also ideal for those who can strap themselves in without assistance.

Automatic docking is more complex than the other two systems, requiring a professional installation to secure the base. It can replace any seat in the mobility van.

As well, the wheelchair that is utilizing the system needs a locking bolt added to the base. This allows the wheelchair to be maneuvered so that the bolt locks into the V groove of the docking system.

The bolt holds the wheelchair firmly in place until it’s time to disengage by simply pressing the unlock button on the corresponding controller.

Final Thoughts on the Different Types of Wheelchair Restraints

Wheelchair tie-downs for vehicles are an essential safety feature of the transportation setup, similar to the seatbelts found in regular cars.

The difference is that wheelchair restraints can be non-retractable, retractable, or automatic to ensure the wheelchair is properly secured in place. This prevents rolling, bumping into objects, and protects the user in case of an accident.

The biggest difference is convenience. While non-retractable straps tend to get in the way, retractable and automatic docking is suitable for those who can secure themselves without assistance.

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