Older road users are among the most vulnerable groups in our communities. Whether walking, riding or travelling within a vehicle, crash outcomes for older road users are typically more severe due to their greater frailty. This level of frailty increases with age. Data provided by the Bureau of Infrastructure Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) indicates that the average length of hospital stay following a road crash is seven days for those over 75 years of age, while it is four days for those aged 25 to 54. Older road users are defined as those over 65 years of age, but this is not a homogenous group.
It includes active walkers and cyclists, motorcycle riders, drivers still engaged in the workforce, ‘grey nomads’ who travel long distances for leisure, as well as those who are more frail and can no longer drive or even walk without assistance.
While fatalities overall have generally decreased over the last decade, numbers of fatalities for older road users have actually increased. The average rate of reduction for all road users was around 3% per year over this period. For the 65 to 74 year old age group there was a 2.3% increase per year, while for those over 75 years, there was a 1.2% increase. This increase needs to be set within the overall context of an aging population, with BITRE figures indicating an increase in driver licences for this older age group. Other demographic and societal factors relating to this older group of road users might also be of influence (e.g. greater extent of walking, riding and driving at an older age).
Much of the historic approach to addressing safety for this older group of road users has relied on monitoring of driving performance, and removal of licence when performance falls below a threshold level. Although assessment of fitness to drive will remain an important approach to managing older road user safety, there are other activities that form part of an older road user strategy that are being implemented by state and territory governments. These include improvements to road infrastructure and enhanced speed management to improve facilities for older pedestrians, especially when crossing roads. Broader safety improvements to infrastructure and speeds have brought benefits for all road users, including older road users. Similarly, improvements to vehicles, including improved crashworthiness and technologies, as well as improved advice on vehicle choice also bring safety benefits to this group.
This Action Plan contains specific actions relating to older road users. Action 9 specifically highlights the support and promotion of new and used car safety ratings (ANCAP and UCSR) with a particular focus on young drivers, older drivers and remote and regional drivers. Other actions within the plan will provide supporting activity, including Action 3, calling for a combination of infrastructure and speed reduction measures to reduce trauma at urban intersections, Action B which promotes road design and Safe System approaches to support outcomes for specific groups at greater risk, and Action 6 which identifies the expanded application of lower speed limits to improve safety.