According to the United Nation’s 2019 prospects on aging, by 2050, one in six people will be over the age of 65, compared to one in 11 in 2019. With respect to road safety, the risk of a traffic fatality tends to increase as the aging population increases.
The good news is that fatal crash involvement for drivers aged 70 and over is lower than its peak in 1997, even though the number of drivers in that age group and their mileage has increased. However, road crash statistics still show that older drivers are overrepresented in fatal and serious injury crashes (Cox, 2021).
Elderly pedestrians often compensate for the inherent difficulties brought on by aging by choosing more prudent behaviors such as obeying the pedestrian crossing signal and waiting in the dedicated zone prior to crossing (Granié, 2014). But even though the study found that most seniors exhibit these safer crossing decisions, it also found that seniors were less aware of their surroundings compared to younger people crossing the street; 25% of seniors were found to look down at the ground prior to crossing and 45% during crossing (Granié, 2014)
According to the Governors Highway Safety Administration, impairments in three key areas – vision, cognition, and motor function – are responsible for higher crash and fatality rates in older road users, each of which declines with age (“Mature Drivers”).
Because of the increased level of vulnerability in the senior age group, providing additional levels of safety is crucial. Here are three ways in which agencies can provide additional levels of safety for the elderly population:
- Consider both short-term and long-term solutions when improving road safety design. Quick improvements often have significant positive effects on safety and should be considered, as well more long-term solutions. Some short-term solutions may include extending pedestrian crossing time and installing new stop controls and signals. Some long-term solutions may include the construction of pedestrian safety islands, widening curbs and medians, and narrowing roadways.
- Perform Operational Safety Reviews with the specific goal of looking at vulnerable road user safety. This can be done large scale (a 2019 Transoft study collected data and analyzed over 100 intersections in Bellevue, WA) or small scale. An example of this is a completed Transoft study that studied data from multiple downtown intersections in Montreal, QC to compare how many pedestrians waited on the street prior to crossing rather than on the curb and calculated individual waiting and crossing times.
- Collisions and injuries are only the tip of the iceberg for safety diagnosis. Field observations and analysis is necessary to help target specific challenges with the road environment. To accommodate impairment in aging populations, the safe systems approach offers a multi-step procedure to identifying the accessibility of the infrastructure’s design for road users and elderly pedestrians. The methodology involves identifying and describing the safety problem, performing a safety impact assessment, assessing the implementation costs, and finally making the changes to the built environment. This proactive approach to road safety allows practitioners to capture and fix safety problems based on potential risk rather than simply based on observed collisions.
Practitioners looking to obtain funding to improve road safety for the senior population might be able to do so through the Safe Streets and Roads for All program, for which applications for FY22 are open until September 15th, 2022. Through the program, city planners, transit agencies, and tribal governments can apply for grants to perform a range of activities such as safety analysis and data collection, or receive funding to, for example, install pedestrian enhancements targeted at improving safety for elderly pedestrians or correct common higher risks across a network. Those interested can obtain more information by visiting https://www.transportation.gov/grants/SS4A.
- Cox, Aimee E., and Jessica B. Cicchino. “Continued Trends in Older Driver Crash Involvement Rates in the United States: Data through 2017–2018.” Journal of Safety Research, vol. 77, June 2021, pp. 288–295., https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsr.2021.03.013.
- Granié, Marie-Axelle, et al. “THE EFFECTS OF AGING AND CONTEXT OF ROAD CROSSING ON THE PEDESTRIANS’ BEHAVIORS OBSERVED ON REGULATED CROSSWALKS.” Nov. 2014, https://doi.org/https://www.researchgate.net/publication/280891413_Etude_des_effets_de_l%27age_et_du_contexte_de_traversee_de_rue_sur_les_comportements_observes_sur_passages_pieton_regules.
- “Mature Drivers.” GHSA, https://www.ghsa.org/issues/mature-drivers.
Julie Levy, B.Eng.
Project Delivery Manager
Julie is a Jr. Transportation Engineer. She has worked closely with municipalities, organizations and engineering firms across Canada, the US and Latin America to define project scopes and ensure timely deliveries. She has worked on numerous vision-based road safety projects including evaluating safety performance at determining the effectiveness of before/after interventions using surrogate safety indicators.