Making Wheelchairs More Safe Through High Visibility


When traveling around the city or even rural areas in a wheelchair, we imagine it can be pretty easy to get overlooked. [Rui] was asked to add some lights and sounds to an electric wheelchair in order to ensure that its rider remained visible to those around him.

The system uses several different components to ensure that the driver can be seen. The first is a message board strapped to the back of the chair which was constructed from a pre-made 8×32 LED matrix enclosed in an acrylic project box. The board uses a PIC16F88 to store and display messages, which are triggered by a control board mounted near the chair’s joystick. He also added headlights and taillights, using bright white and red LEDs, respectively. A 107dB horn was mounted on the chair to ensure that if the driver is not seen, he will certainly be heard.

Everything looks like it fits nicely, without hindering the operation or looks of the chair. Check out the video below to see his high-visibility system in action.


28 thoughts on “Making Wheelchairs More Safe Through High Visibility

  1. So, what’s his disability? Aspergers? Because I really can’t think of why a wheelchair needs a “107db horn” except to piss people off. If someone’s in your way, an “excuse me” should be sufficient. You don’t see pedestrians walking around with air-horns.

    As for the LEDs: brighter is not better, and a bright point source of light really will just blind drivers, making it HARDER to tell where you are. It’s been proven that contrast-edging on emergency worker clothing works better than anything else, for example, at object recognition and size/distance estimation. That’s why Canada required white+red reflective tape on the edges of eighteen wheelers years ago, and why trucks have lights at the corners.

    1. 1. Way to make a blanket insult against people with Asperger’s!
      2. Clearly, you’ve had minimal-to-zero experience with actually being in a wheelchair. Because saying excuse me? Doesn’t usually work. You get overlooked almost every time.

    2. B you have no clue and your reply shows it. Until you know what you are talking about sit down and shut the thunder up! I have only been in a wheelchair for a short time & already I have been put off or put out by the rudeness of the general unknowing, uncaring public. But you ya jerk take the cake, to wade in and make the comment like you did……never mind nothing I could say would or could possibly get through to that BB sized brain you have so I’m not even gonna try……

  2. @B

    On why a wheelchair might need a horn, in my area, I’ve often seen powered wheelchairs crossing busy streets, parking lots where careless drivers are talking on their cellphones, and so on.

    Perhaps not very likely to help, but if it alerts one person to “HEY! There’s going to be a wheelchair stuck under your car in 5 seconds!” then it’s done its job.

  3. @B
    You have obviously never used a wheelchair in public.

    It’s amazing just how invisible we can be.
    I’ve had pedestrians need a tap on the shoulder to realise I am there. Asking them to move aside does not work. Been tripped over, and nearly run over by someone reversing out of a driveway.
    These days I assume every person is a blind deaf moving obstacle, and adjust my actions accordingly. Unless they indicate otherwise. Saves getting run over.

    1. People are very stupid and care only about themselves, sometimes not even then. A horn, and a loud one, is needed. Most of the time people don’t even look in the same direction they are walking in! You are supposed to look out for them, I guess.

  4. Thing is that everyone is invisible to everyone else, be you in a wheelchair, on a bike, in a car or just walking. We can’t all go around with bright lights on making noises – the place would be a cacophony of lights and sounds.

    It’s about time people started being more observant and polite, rather than wearing a string of sound and light polluting devices in a vain attempt to get people to see you – it’s just yet another waste of power brought on by idiotic behaviour.

  5. @James

    Yeah, good in theory until someone is in a hurry to get to the gym and decides to speed through a yellow. The more visible you are the better, fuck noise and visual pollution. If my ass is going to be under your truck, I’m gonna get me a foghorn and a million candlewatt spotlight.

  6. @rlanctot – that’s why I said people should be more observant and polite. Stupidity proliferates the mass “equipping” of people, wasting power, and causing pollution (of various sorts) when people could use what they already have (eyes and ears) and reduce the risk a different way (taking time and obeying the law). It’s the same nonsense that makes everyone buy a bigger and bigger truck to cart their kids to school in the morning – sure it’s safer for you but if we all stopped and used our brains for a split second its easy to see there are much more sensible alternatives.

  7. @B: I see a lot of people in electric wheelchairs on the road, where the sidewalks are not in good condition. This project is from my country, Portugal, and a lot of the sidewalks look like this:

    It looks nice but there are a lot of places with a lot of holes, and in some places the sidewalk is simply not wide enough for a wheelchair, and/or has lampposts in the way.

  8. I think this is a great idea, some of the models are not very suitable to go on a normal sidewalk here and have to be on the bike road so more visual alert would be good, especiall in the dark.

  9. @fartface – depends entirely on how your accident occurs and what you hit. I can assure you you’ll be safer hitting a BMW mini (1200kg) in your 3000kg pickup than with a 500kg Caterham, but you’re more likely to roll when swerving at speed. But the point still stands, makes no sense keep going bigger and bigger, same as it makes no sense with headlights getting brighter and brighter etc.

  10. @B – “if someone’s in your way, an “excuse me” should be sufficient.” – you’re assuming the person can speak; can speak loudly enough to be heard; and will be speaking to pedestrians and not car users.

    I’d echo what another poster said about the “christmas tree effect” making it harder for people to recognise how far away you are, how fast you’re travelling, etc. Some good spoke reflectors, hi-vis reflective stripes on the frame, and good front / rear lights should be enough.

  11. My name’s Rui and i’m the maker of this project.
    About some of the comments posted here, I just have a few words to say:
    As you probably noticed, this all black painted electric wheelchair is not equipped with any equipment to be able to run on the street safely.
    The only thing it has are a couple of small red reflectors on the back side.
    Since this wheelchair will run on the streets ( also because of bad sidewalks like stated above ) I think it makes all the sense to make this wheelchair visible!
    Some people talk about “excessive” light and sound on this wheelchair but don’t talk about all the car makers adding Xenon lights and led strips to cars, adding 3rd blinking brake lights and all the rest.
    I don’t consider a couple of LEDs excessive but…even if…better safe than sorry I always say.
    About the sound…try being inside a car and see if you can hear a standard wheelchair’s horn!

    1. It is not equipped to run on the street because it is not designed to be a car. Use public transportation. Or make the wheelchair meet all NHTSA safety standards, including airbags, seatbelts, crumple zones, ROPS, etc. There is no reason for a chair to be on a rural highway going to Walmart 10 miles away.

      1. No one said anything about ten mile treks to Walmart. Saying a chair will be on “the street” means just that, crossing, parking lots-anywhere one would usually walk. I just came out of a Trader Joe’s and several shoppers looked directly at me, and kept tight on moving, cutting me off, forcing me to stop, etc…this is a daily event.

  12. To be honest, the lights and horn are not that big a deal. People complaining about light or noise pollution should really relax.

    It’s not like they strapped a pair of 500k lumen lights and a locomotive horn to this wheelchair. There are a couple of LEDs on the front, a couple on the back, a scrolling sign, and a horn equivalent to what you would find on a Honda Civic.

    During my commute to and from work, I see plenty of egregious driving – people reading, men shaving, women doing makeup (even EYE makeup). People seem willing to do absolutely anything they possibly can to divert their attention from the road at all times. Assuming that the person using this chair needs to share the road with cars even part time, these modifications seem benign enough.

    What has been done here is no different from strapping a light to the front of your bicycle and putting a blinker on your helmet if you ride at night – yet no one is freaking out about cyclists who do this same thing in the name of safety.

    The horn might seem like overkill to people, but used judiciously it is no big deal. The wheelchair-bound individual is just as likely to roll down the street continuously wailing on his/her horn as you are likely to do the same thing in your car. Used properly, it is for emergency situations, to notify nearby drivers of your presence if they are doing things that will likely cause an accident. If it is ok for you in your car, why is it not ok for someone who is far more vulnerable while traveling the same streets in a wheel chair?

    Just because you don’t think it is a good idea does not make you right.

  13. @Shadow:

    NHTSA? What NHTSA? If you RTFA you would know this hack was done in Portugal not the US. Easy access to public transport is not universal here in the US nor in other countries. Rural highway or not if the user has to go out into the street they are better protected with all of this gear.

    What is the difference between this motorized chair and a bicycle? In most states, the law is that bicycles should be ridden on the street so why not a wheelchair?

  14. I’m a stroke survivor. Luck being relative I’m luck to be ambulatory ofter weeks of physical rehabilitation. Even now I couldn’t use a manual chair, because of my hemiparesis. No doubt the following is a waste of time because in my experience too many of the abled bodied will reject what I’m about to type because it goes against their ingrained notions how thing should be.

    In many if Not most States a Wheel Chair user is considered a pedestrian, motorists are to be give them the right of way as they should a pedestrian, those wheels are their legs. A motorized WC user is considered a pedestrian as well, not an operator of a motor vehicle. Yes ther are motorized WC users who use their chair on the streets like a vehicle. I think that’s due to ignorance on their part, defensive as well. There should be a problem with an abled bodied person walking 10 mile to WalMart, along along a highway there shouldn’t be problem with a chair user doing the same

    Like a abled bodied pedestrian WC users are forced to use the roadways on occasion, in that event a loud horn isn’t unreasonable. Even on the sidewalks, a lesser horn could be useful. My physiatrist once told me to use a cane in public, if I really didn’t need to as a visual cue, that I have difficulties. I told here the only way that a cane would do that was if I used it to knock some in the head.

    Hast to be simple or willful ignorance for someone to suggest that a motorized chair shouldn’t be operated on a sidewalk. Many don’t have full use of their arms. I’m 55 I know of some who have used WC as long as I have been alive, at some point their upper body starts giving out, even if they had full use of for years.

    As A driver myself, I feel this doesn’t address one problem, that being the height of the chars there needs to be something to add to bring the location of the WC user to a height where most drivers will be looking, or at least should notice. As long as the LEDs are similar in brightness as the LEDS now being used on motor vehicles, there should be no problem with blinding drivers. During the day I’d think white strobes at 6′ could be effective, and not hamper using the chair in most buildings. I’m 6′ 3″, and have no problems. Although a fold over mechanism for mast holding a strobe my need to get the chair into a van.

    Respectfully There are many jackass comments directed to this article. Keep in mind anyone reading this is merely a heat beat away from disability.

  15. Interesting thread. I am a BBK amputee.I walk quite well with prosthesis but use a power wheelchair to extend my range and endurance. I have recently developed a device (patent pending) that is used to control accessories attached to the chair. It accepts 12v. input power and uses a console of switches to control devices such as dual rear view cameras, head/rear led lights, horn and usb port for charging devices. We we also offer a secondary AGM battery/on-board charger system housed in it’s own protective ABS case and attached to the chair using a custom built attachment kit. You can find more information in the coming weeks on .


    Kudos to the OP for a job well done.


    Shame on the poster who has never walked a mile in my shoes nor ridden one in a wheelchair at dusk.


    It is about safety and making the experience of being reliant on a wheelchair both manageable and pleasant.

    Let’s try to get along please.

    Jim McManus
    POWERchair PLUS
    Garner, NC USA

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