The debate concerning the UK’s ageing population usually concerns social care, health and pensions. When it touches on transport, it invariably looks at the number of older drivers and their propensity to cause or be involved in road accidents and rarely on the number of older pedestrians dying in road traffic accidents.
Department for Transport (DfT) research ‘Collisions Involving Older Drivers: An In-depth Study‘ found that, ‘older drivers do not seem to have an increased level of blameworthy crashes until around 70 years of age; thereafter, their level of blameworthiness rises’.
The accident (fatal/serious/slight per year per 1,000 drivers) liabilities of drivers increase for the over 70s even when taking into account the lower annual mileages driven by them compared with younger age groups. In the next 20 years, the number of male and female drivers over 70 is set to double and treble respectively. The potential impact on the national road accident toll is clearly a concern.
Fatalities per million population by road user type and age: GB 2010 (click to enlarge)
These 2010 figures (taken from a DfT Report – Overview and trends in reported road casualties 2010) show that it’s the two ends of the scale – younger and older drivers – who were over-represented in road accident fatalities.
They also make clear that the majority of road fatalities in the under-10 and over-80 age groups were, in fact, pedestrians.
Most emphasis on pedestrian safety so far – and to good effect – has been on the safety of children e.g. the walking bus to school and awareness campaigns directed at children and parents. However, older pedestrians are vulnerable to traffic too.
Against a backdrop of increased traffic, accident casualty and fatality numbers have dropped considerably (in 2010 the number of fatalities was 48% lower than the average number in 1994-1998) and pedestrian fatalities have been decreasing across all age groups too. However, the number of older pedestrians dying in road accidents is still over-representative. In 2010 when 405 pedestrians died in road traffic accidents, 155 were 60 years old or over. 26 were 15 years old or less.
A recent study by John Fraser, a senior process engineer and Dr Nuran Fraser, a senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University looked at 2011 road traffic incident data. The researchers set out to establish whether the incidences of pedestrian casualty rates were different proportionately by age group. Their study confirms that older people (and ‘older’ here refers to people in their 60s) are indeed more vulnerable than most as pedestrians. They have a “higher than expected” (an estimated three times higher than expected) number of road accident fatalities partly due to existing health problems – and, for those in older age brackets, increasing frailty – which impair the speed and quality of their recovery compared to other age groups.
It would be good to see more research into frequency and levels of injury sustained by pedestrians in different age groups*, but in the interim, perhaps the main findings of this study provides enough evidence to begin an awareness campaign and put traffic management system e.g timing extensions at crossings and more prominent signs and signals in place to help?.
* nos of pedestrians injured (of all ages) may be higher than current figures suggest. Pedestrian casualties reported by the police system, STATS 19, as included in DfT Reported Road Casualties, do not show all casualties, only those where pedestrians were injured in a collision involving a vehicle. Hospital Episode Statistics include any kind of fall on the street or highway and may include some other road accident victims. Research so far does not take into account older people’s exposure rate i.e. the average distance travelled by a person of a given age and the injury rate per accident. It is also difficult to separate the increased risk of having an accident in the first place from the greater vulnerability in accidents of those in their 60s and over.