Road Safety for Every Age

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This complete street includes numerous features that increase the safety, comfort and enjoyment of pedestrians of all ages. Image courtesy of AARP Bulletin.

As part of Global Road Safety Week (May 6-12), AARP joins many other organizations, governments and individuals working to raise awareness about the dangers facing pedestrians.

Walking is good for your health and it doesn't cost a dime. Unfortunately, it isn't always safe. A pedestrian in America is three times more likely to die in a motor vehicle crash than in Germany, and six times more likely to die than in the Netherlands.

Many U.S. communities either lack sidewalks, have sidewalks in poor repair, or have unsafe road crossings. In 2011, more than 4,400 pedestrians lost their lives in traffic crashes in the United States, accounting for 14% of all traffic fatalities. Older adults and children are most vulnerable.

People aged 65+ accounted for 20% of all pedestrian fatalities in 2011, despite comprising only 13% of the U.S. population. The fatality rate for older pedestrians is higher than the rate for all other ages. With advanced age, bone density declines, making serious injury or death more likely if one is hit by a car. And older pedestrians are more likely than people of other ages to be killed in crosswalks: not jaywalking or walking along the side of the road. Falls among people 65 and older are an equally significant public health concern and cost more than $19 billion annually in total direct medical costs. Inadequate sidewalk maintenance increases older adults' risk.

In 2010, almost one-fifth (19%) of all children between the ages of 5 and 9 who were killed in traffic crashes were pedestrians. Children age 15 and younger accounted for 7 percent of the pedestrian fatalities, and 23% of all pedestrians injured in traffic crashes. Clearly, the United States needs a strong multigenerational approach to improve road safety.

There are proven solutions that can reduce the number of unnecessary deaths on our nation's roadways. AARP advocates for federal, state, and local policies that encourage transportation planners and engineers to design our roads (including sidewalks and street crossings) with all users in mind. Called Complete Streets, these well-designed roads form the physical foundation for age-friendly communities where individuals of any age or ability can get around safely by walking, using a wheelchair, biking, using public transportation or driving.

Almost 500 U.S. cities, towns, counties, metropolitan planning organizations and states have committed to complete streets policies: not only large cities like New York and Chicago, but also smaller communities such as Dubuque, Iowa and Ocean Shores, Wash. But the U.S. still lags behind much of Western Europe.

Building exercise into everyday life can have a positive effect on overall health and longevity. Walking helps older adults maintain balance essential for preventing falls. Walking and biking can afford our youth opportunities for independence before they are entrusted with the car keys. Road design that embraces each individual's quest for movement is an essential first step in the creation of age-friendly communities.

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About the Author:   Jana Lynott  is a Senior Strategic Policy Advisor with the AARP Public Policy Institute where she manages AARP's transportation research agenda. As a land use and transportation planner, she brings practical expertise to the research field.

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