Globally, the number of older persons (those aged 60 years or over) is growing faster than the numbers of people in any other age group and, that growth, is projected to accelerate in the coming years. By 2030, older persons will outnumber children aged 0-9 years (1.4 billion versus 1.3 billion); by 2050, there will be more people aged 60 years or over than adolescents and youth aged 10-24 years (2.1 billion versus 2.0 billion).
This fact is poised to become one of the most significant social transformations of the twenty-first century, with implications for nearly all sectors of society, including the demand for goods and services, such as housing, transportation and social protection.
In an ageing society, the European Project SENIORS (funded under the H2020 framework programme) aims at improving the safe mobility of older road users. In order to increase the elderly’s level of safe mobility, the characteristics of current road traffic collisions, involving the elderly and the injuries that they sustain, need to be understood in detail.
SENIORS has complemented existing knowledge from previous projects with many crash and hospital datasets regarding older (65 years and older), overweight and obese road users in order to obtain a more complete picture of their injury patterns. The results obtained have been compared with the results of mid-aged road users (25-64 years) by determining the body regions most frequently and severely injured, specific injuries sustained and types of crashes involved to derive safety strategies for automotive applications. The results were prepared on macroscopic and microscopic levels considering the official injury severity classifications “slightly, seriously and fatally injured” and the detailed AIS coding and determination of specific, frequent injuries.
The road traffic accident analysis revealed that injury severity increases with the age of the casualties and varies for specific body regions of different road user types. The elderly suffered in all body regions more often from higher injury severities (AIS 2 and AIS 3+) compared with younger road users in these crashes. Recent statistics have revealed that the 75-84 age group was shown to have the highest fatality rate while the 65-74 group had the lowest. These differences were put down to reduced personal mobility with increasing age and the greater frailty of elderly persons.
The results also show differences in gender fatalities where almost two-thirds of the elderly fatalities were men. However, women made up a higher proportion of fatalities among the elderly (36%) than within the whole population (24%). Figure 1 shows the injury distributions for different age groups and road user types in all kinds of road traffic crashes.
Elderly car occupants are overrepresented in the road injury statistics
Seniors of today are more mobile than seniors of earlier generations leading to an increase in the number of elderly road users and consequently the risk of being involved in crashes.
The increased number of elderly drivers on the roads has an important impact on their share in crash accidents. Drivers over 65 years old involved in crash accidents represent 8% of the car accidents analysed, but elderly drivers’ incidence in traffic is lower – people over 65 make up 4.6% of all the trips performed by private vehicles. This shows the increasing importance of addressing safety of the elderly in road traffic. In terms of gender, the statistics have shown that older females suffer slightly more frequently from a serious or fatal injury outcome than males of this age group. The analysis performed focused on car occupants in passenger cars manufactured in 2005 or later.
Studies of injuries in elderly car occupants have identified a critical body region of concern: the thorax. The thorax is the most critical body region for car occupants, for severe injuries (AIS 3+ levels), see Figure 2, and the risk of thorax injury is at least twice as high for older car occupants than for the mid-aged ones.
External road users also at risk
More than one third of elderly fatalities in the EU-24 countries are pedestrians. Contrary to common perception, most times pedestrian traffic accidents occur when walking or crossing properly. In the case of people over 75 years, these represent 65% of all cases.
The likelihood of these older pedestrians hitting a car’s front and suffering from MAIS 2+ injuries is considerably higher than for mid-aged pedestrians by around 10 percentage points, see Figure 3. The studies carried out have detected injury priorities that differ from the mid-aged ones. The critical areas observed both for elderly pedestrians as for elderly cyclists, with severe (AIS3+) injuries, are located on the lower extremities; head and thorax, being the most injured body regions. The analysis performed focused on pedestrians or cyclists in crashes with passenger cars manufactured in 2006 or later.
The road injury statistics also distinguish different priorities in terms of gender. Male pedestrians sustain more severe thorax injuries and less pelvis injuries in comparison to females. In addition, females suffer less from severe head injuries compared to male pedestrians. Overall, severe injuries to older pedestrians were strongly biased towards females. In contrast, cyclist injuries were heavily biased towards males, while injuries to older pedestrians were strongly biased towards females.
Overall, based on the results from the crash data and analyses, older persons were found to suffer more often from higher injury severities compared to mid-aged road users. These users have different critical body regions that will be the basis for investigating and assessing the injury reduction, achieved through innovative tools and safety systems.
Additional information can be found in the following references:
Fornells, A., et al. (2017). “Senior Drivers, Bicyclists and Pedestrian Behavior Related with Traffic Accidents and Injuries”. SAE Technical Paper number 2017-01-1397.
Wisch, M., et. al. (2017). “Road Traffic Crashes in Europe Involving Older Car Occupants, Older Pedestrians or Cyclists in Crashes with Passenger Cars – Results from Seniors.” ESV Conference Paper number 2017-01-1397.
Wisch, M., et al. (2017). “Injury Patterns of Older Car Occupants, Older Pedestrians or Cyclists in Road Traffic Crashes with Passenger Cars in Europe–Results from SENIORS.” IRCOBI Conference Proceedings.
Fiorentino, A., et al. (2016). “Behavioural aspects of elderly as road traffic participants and model split.” Derivable Report D1.1.
Wisch, M., et al. (2017). “Road traffic accidents involving the elderly and obese people in Europe incl. investigation of the risk of injury and disabilities.” Deliverable Report D1.2.
For more information on the SENIORS project check out http://www.seniors-project.eu/
Adrià Ferrer, Innovation Project Manager (Applus+ IDIADA). E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org