Keeping Panama City Safe for Wheelchair Users

Before moving into today's Panama City Injury Lawyer Blog post, we just wanted to remind readers to remain cautious of potential weather threats in our area. While it appears that Isaac will hit land further west, strong rains and winds may still impact our region. Please exercise care.

A story in the Northwest Florida Daily News serves as a reminder of the importance of road safety involving elderly and handicapped individuals. On Saturday morning, at around 7:30 A.M., 87-year-old Hubert Varnum of Fort Walton Beach was using an electric scooter to cross Beal Parkway near Racetrack Road. At the same time, 58-year-old Gayle Jennings, also of Fort Walton Beach, prepared to turn right from the northbound side of Beal onto Racetrack Road.

Reports indicate Jennings had a green arrow when she turned and hit Varnum, who was in the right lane of Racetrack Road, not the crosswalk, at the time of the collision. The accident caused Varnum to fall off his scooter, suffering significant injuries. He hit his head and may also have a broken leg. Florida Highway Patrol and Ocean City-Wright Fire Department officials responded, and a medical helicopter transported the injured man to a Pensacola hospital. An investigation is ongoing, so charges may still be filed.

Making the roads safe for disabled individuals requires the effort of both drivers and wheelchair users. Drivers need to be alert for all road travelers, including those in cars, on foot, or in assisted mobility devices. Wheelchairs are generally lower to the ground than other vehicles, so drivers need to be alert to their possible presence and should take care, slow down, and make room when they spot a wheelchair user in the vicinity. Texting while driving or being otherwise distracted also increases the danger that drivers can pose to disabled travelers.

Wheelchair users should also exercise caution on the road. While riders are not responsible for the negligence of those around them, safety and caution is always preferable to an accident. In general, Florida law treats motorized wheelchairs similarly to pedestrians. Wheelchair users should ride on sidewalks where possible and use should use extra caution when traveling on the road becomes necessary, including when crossing at intersections. The use of reflectors or lights can increase a chair's visibility. Some resources recommend considering safety belts and/or helmets, especially for those who frequently need to travel on active roadways.

Society can also take steps to improve wheelchair safety. Sidewalks should be well-maintained and include curb cuts that allow wheelchair users access. Lawmakers should consider road rules that protect wheelchair users. Driver education courses should include wheelchair safety instruction. In general, disability awareness can make the world safer, especially as the population ages. Being in a wheelchair should not prevent someone from enjoying the world.

If you or someone you love has been injured in a Panama City wheelchair accident, please contact The Pittman Firm. We can help you recover compensation for your injuries. We believe in keeping our region safe for people of all physical abilities. Call for a free consultation.

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