Biggest Road Risk for Seniors Isn’t Driving

by Carole Jackson>, Bottom Line Health

Let’s say that I asked you this question: Are senior citizens at greatest risk of dying from a car-related injury while walking, riding in the passenger seat of a car or driving?

If you’re like me, then your guess would be driving. It’s just part of being human—as we age, our eyesight and reflexes (and maybe even our mental focus) all diminish…and those are all vital for something as risky and difficult as driving.

Well, a new British study found that seniors are actually in most danger while walking.

How is that possible? I spoke with the researcher to find out…


A research team lead by Jonathan J. Rolison, PhD, analyzed all fatal injuries reported by police in Britain between 1989 and 2009 that were classified as “road traffic fatalities.” Meanwhile, the UK National Travel Survey had estimated the number of excursions—whether as a driver, passenger or pedestrian—made each year by individuals age 21 and up. When the researchers combined these two sets of data, they were able to calculate the risk that an individual would be fatally injured for each excursion. Here’s what they found…

When it came to both driver and passenger fatality rates, people age 70 and older had a higher rate than people who were considered “middle-aged” (between 30 and 69). But the rate of the older set was about equal to that of the youngest set—people between ages 21 and 29.

When it came to the pedestrian fatality rate, however, seniors were far more likely to die than people in any other age group—and they were far more likely to die as pedestrians than while driving or sitting in a passenger seat.

“In other words, seniors shouldn’t just be cautious about driving and riding in passenger seats in cars—they should also be cautious while walking,” said Rolison. “Walking is riskier than they might think.”


Anyone who is elderly should be extra careful while walking on or near roads. Seniors typically walk more slowly than younger individuals, and they more often misjudge the speed of approaching vehicles—often due to declining hearing and/or sight. “These things compromise their ability to safely cross streets,” said Dr. Rolison. And because they are usually more frail and susceptible to injury than younger people, they should cross streets only at designated crossing areas, ideally when no cars are in sight. It’s best for them to choose crossing areas that have timers if their neighborhood has any, because those will ensure that seniors have a particular amount of time to safely cross.

Source: Jonathan J. Rolison, PhD, a psychology lecturer at Queen’s University, Belfast, Ireland. His study was published in Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.