Official figures show that older people are very much over-represented among pedestrians killed on London roads. This came out at a meeting I was at recently between Transport for London (TfL) and charities and campaign groups, looking at how to improve pedestrians’ safety.
There is currently a consultation running until the end of October on a London Road Safety Strategy. Part of the research behind it shows that from 2006 to 2010, police statistics indicate over 41 per cent of pedestrians killed on London streets were aged 80 or over and ‘younger old’ groups were also at higher-than-average risk. The age distribution was different when looking at serious and less serious injuries.
How can we make people of all ages safer on the roads? There are some challenging questions. It’s very tempting to say that there should be public education campaigns aimed at at-risk groups (so in this case, older people); apparently the high-profile road safety campaigns aimed at teenagers have been effective. And it’s hard not to support campaigns that might save some lives!
Another view is that it’s more important to make streets safer and more accessible for all. Education campaigns could amount to blaming the victims if they imply that the main problem is individuals’ behaviour. One example often given is that many pedestrian crossings don’t allow people enough time to cross before the signal turns red, and this has a worse impact on older people. The BBC cites some research into this.
The police statistics identify behaviour by drivers and pedestrians that could have contributed to a crash. Many of both groups ‘failed to look properly’ or were ‘impaired by alcohol’. One factor recorded for some older pedestrians was ‘wrong use of a pedestrian crossing facility’, which begs the question of whether there was one type of pedestrian crossing where older people had more accidents, or some other reason why these older people ‘used crossings wrongly’.
Equally, many say that crossings are often not sited where people most need them. Can we be confident that the roads older people need to cross daily have safe crossings in roughly the right place?
It’s also possible to come at this from a different angle altogether. What if the most important thing were not to reduce the number of accidents, but to get more people walking because that has very positive health benefits? From this point of view it would be a problem if the unintentional message was that London streets are too dangerous for, say, older people to venture on. It’s a common, almost consensus view that we need to get people walking more, and possibly that might mean more accidents unless traffic and street conditions are radically changed.
So, there are a lot of important questions worth discussing and it would be great to hear from anyone with answers or opinions. I’d just like to finish by saying clearly that I commend TfL for consulting to help find solutions to these problems.