The winter months are hard on your vehicle and, at times, treacherous to drive in. Wheelchair drivers have their own set of unique challenges when driving in winter weather. It can feel intimidating to venture out on the roads in these types of conditions. However, with proper preparation, wheelchair van drivers can minimize their risks by taking some simple actions.
Here are some tips and precautions to consider for drivers of wheelchair vans:
Determine whether you really need to go out.
In the face of bad weather, it’s sometimes best to stay home. If you still must venture out when the weather is poor, try to go out later in the day when you have the best chance of the roads being cleared. At minimum, remain where you are until snowplows and sanding crews have done their work.
Consider a switch to snow tires.
Look for tires that have tread patterns and rubber compounds specially designed for optimum traction on slick roads. Look for the “snowflake on the mountain” symbol on the sidewall: This means the tire meets a tire-industry standard for snow traction. These types of tires grip the snow much better than regular tires. If you opt for winter tires, be sure to get a full set or stick with all-season tires. Mounting only two winter tires on the front or back of a car will make it prone to spinning out or plowing straight off the road.
Don’t overlook the tires on your wheelchair either. Mountain bike tires can work well for wheelchairs, as long as they have good, deep tread. Or, consider using zip ties that are long enough to go around the thickness of your wheelchair’s tires. Wrap the ties around your wheelchair tires every couple of inches until you’ve covered the circumference of the tire. This will help to give your tires more traction.
Exercise safety before entering your wheelchair van.
It can be easy to neglect thinking about how to safely get to your wheelchair van. However, the path to your van can be the most treacherous at times. Ask someone to make sure that your pathways are clear, shoveled and salted, if needed. If you do notice any ice or puddles of standing water, take extra care when maneuvering around or through these. Also, attempting to drive your wheelchair through the snow can be physically taxing. Ask for additional help to avoid accidental over-exertion.
Make sure you’re prepared ahead of time.
Make sure your wheelchair van is properly stocked with the following essentials: Extra blankets, extra supply of your medications, vehicle cell phone charger, extra food and water, emergency escape hammer, etc.
Notify someone that you’re going out.
Make sure to give a friend, neighbor or family member sufficient details of your trip, in case any problems should arise with the weather. Tell them where you’re going, why you’re going, when you’re leaving and expected back, and who will be with you. Also, make sure they have your cell phone number in case they need to contact you.
Get your wheelchair van checked out by a professional.
Locate your nearest VMI Select Dealer or any mobility equipment dealer in your area who can perform an inspection of your wheelchair van. They often have specific recommendations of how to ensure your wheelchair van is ready for winter driving conditions in your unique area. Be sure to also have your van inspected for overall winter readiness – check windshield wipers and fluid, battery strength, make sure you use the proper oil for temperatures in your area, etc.
Register with your local Special Needs Registry.
This can be done through your county. Registration with your local Special Needs Registry helps emergency response teams to be better prepared to help in the event of an emergency. County officials will have your contact information in their database and will be able to locate you more quickly and easily if needed.