Report: Older Pedestrians Remain Most Threatened By Traffic

Older people are at much greater risk of being killed by a car while walking, especially in downstate New York. Image: Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

Pedestrians over the age of 60 are particularly at risk when walking on the streets of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, a new report from the Tri-State Transportation Campaign shows. According to “Older Pedestrians at Risk,” an updated version of similar research from last year, the pedestrian fatality rate for those over 60 is more than 2.5 times as high as for those under 60. Senior citizens over the age of 75 are likelier still to be killed by cars while walking, with a fatality rate 3.1 times higher than for those under 60.

Between 2007 and 2009, 433 pedestrians over the age of 60 were killed in traffic crashes in the tri-state area. Two hundred and seventy one were killed on roads in downstate New York. Programs like New York City’s Safe Streets for Seniors have saved lives, said Tri-State, but they need additional funding for more widespread implementation.

Bill Ferris, the legislative director for AARP in New York, said the Tri-State report “showed some disturbing trends in how older persons are disproportionately killed walking in their own communities. This is unacceptable to AARP.”

The Tri-State authors identified four reasons that older pedestrians were disproportionately in danger from traffic. Older people are less able to quickly move out of the way of an oncoming vehicle and likely to sustain greater injuries from the same crash, two factors which contribute to an elevated pedestrian fatality rate nationwide. Design-wise, seniors suffer when streets are designed for a younger population, as when traffic lights don’t provide enough time for a slower person to safely cross the street.

In the tri-state area, however, older pedestrians are at even greater risk of being killed by cars than they are nationwide. The ability to remain active without needing to drive is a major boon for the area’s seniors, but staying out and about does mean staying exposed to the risk of traffic crashes.

Large numbers of older, active residents is part of why Brooklyn had the highest pedestrian fatality rate for people over 60 of any county in the entire tri-state area, an ignominious title that belonged to Manhattan in last year’s report. Brooklynites over the age of 60 made up 46 percent of all pedestrian fatalities in the borough even though they only make up 16.3 percent of the population. Factsheets for each county in the region can be found on Tri-State’s website.

As the region’s population continues to age, ensuring that older residents are able to walk safely will become only more important. “It all points to the need for New York State legislature to pass complete streets legislation in order to make our roads safer for all users,” said Ferris. Complete streets legislation, currently pending in Albany, is particularly important considering the finding that seniors are disproportionately killed on large arterial roads, the kind of streets that are targeted by the bill.