I am an expert witness dealing with personal injury clients and their transport requirements. I was recently instructed to visit a client; a young girl we will call “A”.
A has four limb cerebral palsy and is reliant on others for all her daily needs; she is totally wheelchair dependant. She lives at home with her mum and dad and her younger brother.
I was sent to discuss her transport requirements and was informed that she had been supplied a WAV or wheelchair accessible vehicle via the Motability scheme. The vehicle is a Vauxhall Zafira and offers wheelchair access via a fold out ramp to the rear of the vehicle. This is a fairly standard conversion and includes two single seats in the saloon area of the car. I was told how awkward it was to load and unload the wheelchair; having to push the chair uphill into the car and then scrabble about on the floor to fix the restraint systems. I was also told that the passenger seats in the rear had been replaced with much smaller seats and how uncomfortable they were for even the shortest journeys. The car was also very noisy and this affected A’s travelling as she has a ‘shock’ reflex. There was little or no heating or ventilation in the saloon area; just where it was needed.
I discussed the transport arrangements and asked if they were suitable; I was in for a shocking story.
The vehicle was supplied without consultation and is, therefore, based on a ‘check list’ assessment. The result is that it is far too small does not enable A to be attended to for her personal requirements inside the car. This was only part of the story. I was then informed about the more serious part. It has been widely reported that there have been incidents with this make and model of car where an electrical fault has resulted in the car catching fire. I was told that the car had been on recall twice to check and inspect the wiring but no offer by Motability to change the vehicle.
As you can appreciate A’s mum and dad were very much aware that getting a wheelchair out of a burning car would be considerably harder than with abled bodied passengers. They were so concerned that they had run an ‘exit drill’ to time themselves of what to do in the case of an emergency; pretty scary stuff.
Well what would be the solution for this?
I contacted the solicitor who was rightly very concerned about the wellbeing of their client. I recommended that there would need to be a long term solution but that could take many months to source and supply. My next offer was to arrange a short term lease vehicle that would be as near as possible to the long term solution. The vehicle I located was a VW Caravelle. The model was the Executive; this offer zoned heating and ventilation, much needed in the passenger area. It was fitted with wheelchair access via a platform lift; no more pushing a heavy wheelchair up hill. The platform lift is located to the back of the Caravelle and underneath; this eliminates the ‘clattering’ associated with lifts that are inside the vehicle.
The vehicle also has 5 full sized and original passenger seats but still has plenty of room so mum and dad can attend to A’s needs without having to take her out of the car to do so.
As a final touch and something that should be standard on all WAVs I fitted an ‘engine fire trace’ system. This system will automatically activate in the engine compartment in the event that a fire is detected; it does not require any human intervention.
I am pleased to report that the lease vehicle has been supplied that the family have found it now such a pleasure to be able to all go out together without the fear and anguish that they had to suffer.
They have, through the support of their solicitor and the Court of Protection, been able to place an order for their daughter’s own vehicle… in a colour of her choice.