Prompted by at least three incidents in which wheelchair-bound Angelenos were struck by cars during the last month, law enforcement and disability advocates are urging drivers to add wheelchair users to their radar.
A woman in a motorized wheelchair was struck and killed by a driver on Saturday in Van Nuys. Last month, a woman’s legs were broken after a hit-and-run driver struck her in Laguna Hills as she traveled in her wheelchair.
And a couple weeks after that crash, surveillance cameras captured a driver in Long Beach strike and kill a man trying to cross the street in his motorized wheelchair.
Disabled by polio since childhood, Marcy Hernandez bought an electric scooter about ten years ago. It’s enabled her to work, go shopping and travel. In a word, she said, her scooter is freedom.
And she’s not alone. An estimated 2 million Americans use wheelchairs and as the nation’s senior population increases every year, high-tech motorized devices are keeping pace.
"We’ve got more people on the street, more wheelchairs out there," said Norma Jean Vescovo with Independent Living Center of Southern California.
"There’s so many reasons why people get into trouble on the street," Vescovo said.
Traffic officers at the LAPD West Valley Division said drivers often do not see wheelchairs because they’re low to the ground. Even strollers, bicycles and cars have a higher profile.
Hernandez is reminded every time she visits the supermarket that she travels in a blind spot.
"People are just looking around," she said. "They're not looking down, where I am."
On the street, that can be fatal. Drivers are being reminded that even the most high-tech chair travels much slower than the average pedestrian.
Disability advocates advise wheelchair users to look at drivers’ faces and make sure they’ve seen them before going into traffic.