Elderly Face Greatest Risk for Involvement in Fatal Pedestrian Accidents


April 24, 2013

Many people presume that young children face the greatest risk of suffering permanent injury or wrongful death in a pedestrian accident.  This belief is based on the lack of maturity of young children and a lack of experience with judging distance and speed.  Despite the reasonableness of this assumption, new data indicates that the elderly are more likely to be involved in a fatal pedestrian accident.

The new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that was published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report reveals that pedestrian accidents cause a disproportionate amount of motor vehicle fatalities particularly among the elderly.  While pedestrians account for only ten percent of trips, thirteen percent of all motor vehicle-related deaths involve pedestrians.  However, those most at-risk of dying in a pedestrian accident are those age 75 and older, who are two times as likely as the average pedestrian to be killed in a pedestrian accident according to the CDC research.

Although the study was not aimed at providing reasons for the high pedestrian fatality rate among the elderly, the researchers indicated that it may be linked to limitations in mobility that leave senior citizens exposed to traffic longer when crossing the street.  However, this explanation does little to explain why elderly men are twice as likely as elderly women to die in a pedestrian crash.  The researchers point out this may be explained by the fact that elderly men are more likely to walk than elderly women.  The authors of the study also suggested alcohol use may also explain the disparity between older men and women killed in pedestrian crashes.

While the research was short on explanations of the elevated risk of fatal pedestrian accidents for seniors, it concluded that general measures that reduce the risk of pedestrian collisions could provide an effective strategy for reducing the frequency that seniors are involved in these dangerous motor vehicle accidents.  These measures include:

  • Wider implementation of crash avoidance systems in vehicles
  • More police officers focused on speed limits, distracted driving and DUI
  • Longer periods of time before changes in walk-don’t walk signals
  • Better intersection and crosswalk planning
  • Stiffer penalties for traffic light and stop sign violations
  • More extensive use of raised medians

While public road safety entities tend to focus more resources on vehicle safety, the aging American population may mean that pedestrian safety needs to become a higher priority.  The baby boomers are rapidly approaching retirement age, which means far more elderly pedestrians.  When public entities do not take sufficient care to provide safe areas for pedestrians to cross the street, which take into account age-related limitations on mobility, the public entity may share liability with an unsafe driver for pedestrian injuries.

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Category: Personal Injury

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