Road Traffic: A Lifetime of Safety

How can we keep senior populations safe in traffic? The DEKRA Road Safety Report 2021 shows the measures that make a different in regard to people, vehicle technology, and infrastructure.

Senioren Fahren Cabrio
Happy senior couple taking selfie on new convertible car Photo: stock adobe / Alessandro Biascioli

The European Commission’s accident statistics should give food for thought: More or less unchanged for years, the 65+ age group has accounted for almost 30 percent of all traffic fatalities in the European Union (EU). Among pedestrians and cyclists killed in road traffic, senior citizens account for almost half. One of the reasons is the higher vulnerability with increasing age, i.e. the higher risk of suffering more severe or fatal injuries in identical accidents compared to younger people.

Worldwide more accident fatalities of people over 65

The fact that senior road users generally have an increased risk of accidents on the road applies not only to the EU, but to large parts of the world. According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle, the number of 65- to 69-year-old road users killed in accidents worldwide rose by more than 65 percent from 39,000 to around 65,000, between 1990 and 2019. In Asia alone, the number doubled from 20,000 to more than 40,000. Among the over-70s, the rate of increase worldwide was more than 80 percent – from 82,000 to almost 150,000. Once again, Asia accounted for the lion’s share: With just under 92,000 fatalities, around two and a half times as many over-70s were killed in road accidents in 2019 as were in 1990. This shows an urgent need for action, especially as the proportion of senior citizens among all road users will only continue to increase in the face of demographic trends. According to the “World Population Prospects 2019” published by the United Nations, one in eleven people worldwide was over 65 in 2019, and this figure is expected to rise to one in six by 2050. In Europe and North America, as many as one in four inhabitants could be 65 or older by 2050.

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VSR 2021 Traffic Fatality Numbers 2010 bis 2018
VSR 2021

According to the International Traffic Safety Data and Analysis Group (IRTAD), the number of traffic fatalities in the 18- to 24-year-old age group fell by 25 percent and by 6.9 percent for 25- to 64-year-olds in the countries it studied between 2010 and 2018. During the same period, seniors showed an opposite trend. The number of fatally injured over-65s in accidents rose by around seven percent, while the number of over-75s increased by 4.7 percent.

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DEKRA road safety report reveals weak points

In order to ensure the safety of senior citizens in road traffic to their most advanced old age, the DEKRA Road Safety Report 2021 presents a wide range of measures. Monitoring, advisory, and appraisal measures are being discussed, as are design solutions in terms of vehicle technology and infrastructure, and integrated mobility concepts.

Taking a closer look at car drivers among the various road users shows that complex traffic situations in particular are a major challenge for the 65+ age group: Stress increases at complicated or unclear intersections, or where different traffic systems converge. This is also reflected in the results of extensive behavioral observations with older drivers, according to which driving through intersections and turning right or left are particularly dangerous situations. Estimating speeds and distances also becomes more difficult with advancing age.

Jann Fehlauer, Managing Director of DEKRA Automobil GmbH: “Urgent action is needed to minimize the risk of accidents for senior citizens worldwide, while still maintaining mobility for older people in terms of social participation.”

Many older drivers can adapt their driving behavior to their declining performance by using so-called compensation strategies. On the one hand, they avoid certain situations, for example driving in the dark, rush hour in cities, roads with high traffic volumes, driving in bad weather conditions, and situations with unclear surroundings. On the other hand, in existing situations, they reduce speed, increase safety distance, and generally drive more defensively, or make use of assistance systems to keep their distance or park. Technology not only supports seniors as drivers, but also protects them as pedestrians or cyclists.

Driver reviews for long mobility preservation

In addition, senior drivers can be supported in maintaining their driving skills and coping with complex traffic situations via qualified accompanied review drives, for example. The goal here is not primarily to quit driving, but rather to demonstrate ways of maintaining safe mobility in old age.

These and many other facts and recommendations on road safety for senior citizens can be found in the latest DEKRA Road Safety Report, available online at www.dekra-roadsafety.com.

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