Older vulnerable road users - measures to reduce crash and injury risk

Monash University Accident Research Centre - Report No. 218 - 2004

Authors:  J. Oxley, B. Corben, B. Fildes, M. O'Hare

Full report in .pdf format [1.3MB]

Abstract:

Older pedestrians and cyclists are vulnerable road users, comprising a substantial proportion of all road fatalities world-wide. Pedestrian fatalities constitute between 20 and 30 percent of road fatalities, while cyclist deaths range from 2 percent in Australia to 10 percent in Denmark, Belgium, Germany and Sweden to 23 percent in the Netherlands. Older pedestrians and cyclists are over-represented in these figures, accounting for up to 45 percent of pedestrian fatalities and up to 70 percent of cyclist fatalities. The nature of injuries to older pedestrian and cyclists are severe once involved in a crash because they are largely unprotected and more frail than younger pedestrians and cyclists. Even in moderate crashes, the elderly are in greater danger of being seriously injured or killed than younger pedestrians and cyclists. 

The first section of this review provides an outline of the problem, discussing the contributing factors to increased crash and injury risk including age-related changes in functional performance, vehicle design factors and the road infrastructure, design and operation. There are consequences of ageing on sensory, perceptual, cognitive and physical abilities that can result in problems coping with traffic. Safe walking and cycling requires the adequate functioning of all these systems and loss of efficiency in any one can reduce performance and increase risk on the road. Many older pedestrians and cyclists, therefore, experience some difficulty participating safely in complex traffic. Selecting a safe gap in which to cross in front of oncoming traffic seems to be a major problem for older pedestrians and cyclists as well as adjusting walking and cycling pace and maintaining balance on a bicycle in the event of an emergency. In addition, the frontal structures of vehicles can greatly affect injury outcome. Current bumper, bonnet and windscreen design is not conducive to pedestrian and cyclist safety. Moreover, the trend of increasing numbers of large and aggressive sports-utility vehicles, four-wheel-drives and vans (often fitted with rigid bull-bars) in the vehicle fleet adversely affects the injurious consequences to pedestrians and cyclists. Last, the growing complexity of the road environment places increasing demands on an older person's adaptability. The current road system, for the most part, seems to be unforgiving for older vulnerable road users and few facilities are designed specifically for the special needs and capabilities of older adults. 

The second section of this report provides a comprehensive review of the international 'best-practice' solutions aimed to reduce the crash and injury risk to older pedestrians and cyclists including behavioural/educational programs, enforcement, vehicle design improvements and improvements to infrastructure, road design and operation of the road-transport system. Given that the behaviour of older road users is thought to contribute, in part, to their increased risk of collision, it is suggested that education, awareness and training programs as well as encouragement and enforcement of safe walking and cycling practices are considered. In terms of improvements to vehicle design, improvements to frontal structures, prohibition of rigid bull-bars and use of in-vehicle ITS applications are recommended. Consideration of changes to the road transport system to create a safer more 'crashworthy' environment for older pedestrians and cyclists, whilst maintaining their mobility, is also recommended. It is recommended that: i) more attention be given to reducing numbers of vehicles travelling at excessive or high speeds in areas of high pedestrian activity, ii) more attention be given to reducing pedestrian-vehicle and cyclist-vehicle interactions along roads, within curves and at intersections, iii) more attention be given to reducing the complexity of traffic environments, and iv) consideration of other road design improvements such as provision of improved facilities at public transport stops and provision of good street lighting in high risk areas.

Sponsoring organisation: Swedish National Road Administration (SNRA)