Monograph 13 – Road fatalities among older pedestrians

Road fatalities among older pedestrians Pedestrians represent a significant component of Australias total road deaths. Of 1,737 deaths throughout Australia in 2001, about one-in-six (290) were pedestrians. This monograph provides a statistical overview of a major contributor to the pedestrian toll - people aged 65 years and older.

Figure 1 shows the age and gender profile of total pedestrian road fatalities during the past five years in Australia. It shows that the major contributors have been males aged 15 to 54 and males and females aged 65 and older.

The contribution from persons aged 65 and older is well in excess of what might be expected on the basis of their population share. Figure 2 shows the average rates of pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 population for individual age and gender groups during the past five years in Australia. Compared with average annual fatality rates of 0.6 or 0.7 fatalities per 100,000 persons for the safest groups - females aged below 55 - the rates for older people ranged up to 13.7 for males aged 85 and older.

Although people aged 65 and older represent less than one-eighth of the Australian population, they have contributed about one-third of total pedestrian deaths in recent years (93 of the 290 pedestrian fatalities in 2001).

This high toll reflects the greater reliance of older people on pedestrian travel, the perceptual, cognitive and physical deteriorations associated with ageing, and the older persons greater frailty and risk of death if hit by a motor vehicle.

Further, fatalities among older pedestrians are potentially set to grow substantially as Australias population ages over the next few decades. Recent population projections by the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicate that the share of Australias population aged 65 years and older will double to about 24% by the year 2041.

These facts demonstrate how important it is for Australian road safety practitioners to identify the characteristics of motor vehicle collisions involving older pedestrians and to reflect this knowledge in standards for roadway design and in other road safety countermeasures.

In time, such planning will need to focus most of all on the very elderly pedestrian. Projected population increase is greatest for this age group. If other factors remain unchanged, by the year 2041 about one-in-three fatally injured older pedestrians will be aged 85+ compared with about one-in-five at present.

figure 1

Figure 2: Australian pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 population* by age and gender, 1997 to 2001

A comprehensive table of information on older pedestrian fatalities is provided here, based on information extracted from the ATSBs holdings of coronial documentation about road crashes. The summary covers 393 of the 405 pedestrians aged 65 and older who were killed (in 402 collisions) on Australian roads between 1996 and 1999. The following key facts emerge from this material.

Key facts

  • People aged 65 and older feature prominently among Australias pedestrian road deaths.
  • Pedestrian fatalities in this age group are potentially set to increase substantially as Australias population ages over the next few decades.
  • The greatest population increase is projected for the very elderly. If other factors remain unchanged, by the year 2041 about one in every three older pedestrian fatalities will be aged 85 and older compared with about one in every five at present.
  • Examination of coronial records between 1996 and 1999 indicates that older pedestrians were generally killed after coming into collision with a vehicle while attempting to cross the road in an urban area either on the far side of the road from the point entered (43%) or on the near side (43%).
  • The deaths tended to be associated with complex traffic environments. They occurred predominantly in urban areas (96% of cases), commonly took place on carriageways with undivided streams of opposing traffic (64% of cases), and were mostly at locations subject to speed limits of 60 km/hr or less (81%).
  • Only a small proportion of the deaths (5%) stemmed from risky road use on the part of the driver.
  • Primary responsibility for the collision was fully attributable to the pedestrian in 72% of cases and partly attributable to the pedestrian in an additional 14% of cases.
  • There was little evidence, however, of deliberately risky road use on the pedestrians part other than alcohol intoxication. About 11% of pedestrians had a blood alcohol concentration that would have made them ineligible to be in control of a motor vehicle, a much lower incidence than among their younger adult counterparts (60%).
  • The deaths were predominantly attributed to unexplained unintentional errors on the pedestrians part. Although difficult to prove, perceptual, cognitive and physical deteriorations were probably implicated in many of these errors.
  • These difficulties would have been exacerbated by the fact that only a small proportion of fatal road crossings had been attempted at a traffic control 15% at an intersection or pedestrian crossing controlled by traffic lights and 4% at a pedestrian crossing without lights.
  • In at least 18% of cases, an intersection controlled by traffic lights or a pedestrian crossing had been available within 100 metres of the pedestrian attempting to cross the road but had not been used.
  • Pedestrian errors would be expected to have more serious consequences in conditions of reduced visibility. Although the deaths occurred predominantly on straight stretches of road (86%) and in fine weather (88%), about one-third occurred at night, dawn or dusk, mostly in circumstances of poor street lighting or no street lighting at all. This contrasts with the fact that the majority of travel by older pedestrians occurs during daylight hours.

Type: Research and Analysis Report

Sub Type: ATSB Monograph

Topics: Fatality, Pedestrian

Publication Date: 01/07/02