Around 30 percent of all traffic fatalities that have occurred in the EU in recent years were aged 65 or over, and among pedestrians and cyclists, senior citizens even accounted for around half of all those killed on the road. These few facts alone – which have not changed much over the years – illustrate the often life-threatening dilemma older people face when using the road in any capacity. If the United Nations’ forecasts prove accurate, the situation could get even worse in many parts of the world. According to these figures, one in four residents in Europe and North America will be aged 65 or over by 2050, for example. In view of the increased vulnerability that comes with age (i.e. the higher risk of suffering severe or fatal injuries compared to younger people involved in an identical type of accident), there is a danger that the number of road accident victims in the 65+ age group will rise even further.
There are a wide range of measures that can be used to counteract this trend, as detailed in the previous chapters of this report. One of the challenges will be to devise a way to help senior citizens retain their independent mobility well into old age while also minimizing the potential risks posed to them – and occasionally posed by them. The best preventive approach to counteracting this problem would seem to be a combination of various solutions. This means we need to consider monitoring, advice and appraisal measures just as seriously as vehicle technology and infrastructure design solutions and inclusive mobility concepts.
When it comes to improving road safety for senior citizens, many experts are in favor of the use and further development of assistance systems that compensate for age-related deficits and can help to reduce the number of accidents old-er drivers are involved in, or cause – due to driver errors for example. As a survey commissioned by DEKRA has shown, the 65+ age group is very open to the idea of electronic assistants. However, it is important to note that it will take a long time for vehicles with assistance systems to achieve a high level of market penetration. For new safety systems, this will take an average of 15 years after they become a mandatory requirement. The results of a study commissioned by the German Federal Highway Research Institute (BASt) and published in January 2020 are also of interest in this context. These show that, in 2017, electronic stability control (ESC), brake assist and cruise control were the systems most commonly installed in vehicles in Germany, at 83 percent, 77 percent and 48 percent respectively. Meanwhile, new systems such as automated emergency braking, lane departure warning system and blind spot warning system still had very low installation rates, in some cases under five percent.
Since infrastructural measures like structural changes to the road also often take a long time to get from the planning stage to implementation, for now we need to focus on the human factor if we want to achieve fast positive results with regard to road safety, especially that of senior citizens. The fact is that age-related limitations on cognitive processing resources have a significant impact on the amount and complexity of information a person can handle at any one time. This makes dealing with a driving task more strenuous, which in turn leads more quickly to overloading in the form of tiredness and mental stress. This makes it much harder for senior citizens to act according to the regulations and appropriately for the respective traffic situation, especially at complex junctions, at points with different rights of way, and when turning. This goes some way to explaining why older people are more prone to accidents, especially in these types of situations on the road. The ability to correctly judge speeds and distances also decreases with age – particularly when other health-related limitations become a factor.
Generally speaking, in order to improve road safety for senior citizens, a proactive strategy that takes all types of mobility into account is required at international, national, regional and local levels. The explicit objective of this strategy must be to enable senior citizens to retain safe, personal mobility – and we must all make a social commitment to achieve this aim.