While trip distance, trip duration and walking or cycling speed is decreasing, especially after the age of 75 (O’Hern, 2015), older pedestrians and cyclists’ vulnerability increases due to (Mantilla & Burtt, 2016; Oxley, 2004; Zeeger, 2010):
Deterioration in visual and hearing acuity
Cognitive decline resulting in reduced ability to make safe judgements
Reduced mobility resulting in an inability to react quickly
Frailty and existing health conditions resulting in greater injury severity when a crash does occur
Slower walking speeds
Cycling behaviour – although more likely to respect rules and signs, older cyclists were found more likely to neglect to check the traffic situation behind them when changing direction, and tend to sway towards the centre of the road more often than younger cyclists
Postural instability and balance - Older pedestrians and cyclists are at higher risk of falling, tripping or stumbling while walking or cycling, particularly on uneven surfaces.
Many medical conditions can lead to diminished capability and impairment, and they become increasingly prevalent with advancing age. The most common medical conditions affect:
vision (cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma)
cognitive abilities needed to drive/cycle/walk (dementia, stroke, sleep apnoea)
psychomotor functioning (musculoskeletal diseases – arthritis, neurological diseases - Parkinson’s disease).
Increased use of medication (for these conditions and others) often produce sleepiness, dizziness, blurred vision, and confusion, and one class (anticholinergics) can be especially dangerous, producing confusion and sedation along with memory impairment.
As a response to the increased risk, older people tend to self-regulate. Self-regulation, or the modification of driving by driving less often or avoiding challenging situations in response to declining abilities, is increasingly being studied as a way to help older drivers maintain independence and extend the period over which they can safely drive.
Strategies for balancing safety and personal mobility need to recognise:
Older adults often prefer driving as their primary means of transportation in the community and consider driving to be vital to their well-being and independence
Adverse consequences associated with driving cessation include:
a) loss of independence and mobility
b) increased social isolation
c) increased depressive symptoms
d) higher risk of nursing home placement, and
e) more general accelerated health declines
If older drivers self-regulate appropriately, the burden on society to intervene and support them could be reduced.
Replacing car trips is very beneficial from a road safety perspective, since the car is the most prominent “risk poser” for the sustainable and healthy transport modes (walking and cycling). Replacing car trips, at least for short trips, with walking or cycling helps the elderly preserve their mobility for longer and improve their physical and mental health.
The alternatives to cars, such as walking, cycling or using micromobility options should not be treated and promoted as just an alternative to driving. They should be part of people’s lives, especially at older ages.
The elderly can and should replace driving when they are no longer best fit for it. At the same time, walking and cycling activities should be done because:
it is healthy and helps the individual keep fit for longer
it is pleasant and allows people to meet other people and interact
it gives people higher independence for as long as their physical mobility isn’t significantly affected.