Management & Operations

New standards for wheelchair lifts increase size limits, require handrails

Posted on February 1, 2003

Two new standards for wheelchair lifts are to be in effect by Dec. 27, 2004. The new regulations, established by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), increase the minimum requirements for platform dimensions and set maximum size limits on platform protrusions and gaps between the platform and the vehicle floor and ground. The new standards also require handrails, a threshold-warning signal and retaining barriers for lifts, along with performance standards. “We pulled requirements that existed in other existing standards that are basically voluntary, like [from] the Society of Automotive Engineers and the Federal Transit Administration,” said a safety specialist from NHTSA. “We figure a lot of these standards manufacturers are adhering to already. So we just brought these standards together into one, and we figure it’s something that everyone should be familiar with. We know that if it’s a voluntary standard, they’re not completely adhering to it, but they’re probably doing some of the things.” Since NHTSA used information obtained and disseminated from the transit industry, Peter Pantuso, president and CEO of the American Bus Association, said he didn’t know how well these new standards would transfer from transit to motorcoach. “We’ve read through [the standards] and sent them out to the bus industry safety council. There are obviously some significant changes in terms of handrails and spacing and gaps,” Pantuso said. Pantuso encouraged operators who are considering installing a wheelchair lift in their coach to make sure the equipment follows the new set of guidelines if possible. “It’s probably going to take a little bit of time before the real knowledgeable people, mainly the engineers of coach companies and of the wheelchair and lift manufacturers, have an opportunity to know what the impact is going to be,” Pantuso said. “They don’t have to be in place until 2004 so there’s a little bit of time to get to understand them and comply with them.” NHTSA’s Federal Register document states that the responsibility for lift design and performance ultimately rests with the lift manufacturer. The document said that the lift manufacturer must provide directions for installation that comply with FMVSS No. 403. It also said that vehicle manufacturers bear responsibility for installing a lift in a manner that is consistent with FMVSS No. 404. “Additionally, they are responsible for making sure that only public use lifts are installed on buses, school buses and multi-purpose vehicles, other than motor homes, with a GVWR greater than or equal to 10,000 pounds,” the document read. The new standards specify weight limits needed to activate interlocks and alerts. The weight for determining when a lift must meet the public use requirements was increased to 10,000 pounds. The standard load for private use lifts also changed from 600 pounds to the manufacturer’s specified load of 400 pounds. For a complete list of the new standards, go to and click on Docket Management System, type in the document number 13917 and click search.

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