Roads and road features play a vital role in reducing crashes and/or the injury outcomes in the event of a crash. In a Safe System, roads are designed to reduce the risk of crashes occurring and the severity of injury, should a crash occur.
Improved infrastructure provides solid and well understood crash and injury reduction outcomes and is critical for long term and sustainable trauma reduction.
Many measures that should be considered as part of improvements to the roads and roadsides are appropriate for all road users and there are a number which could be introduced to specifically aid older road users.
There are many opportunities afforded by urban planning to explore ways in which the older population can be far better supported through urban design. International practice is changing rapidly in this arena with far greater recognition placed on the need to integrate transport facilities and creating environments that are far more conducive to walking and cycling.
A recognition that local streets are often underutilised as social space is leading urban designers to emphasise the value of including shade, rest spaces and increased pavement widths into road design that encourage more extensive community use as well as engendering greater interaction among citizens.
The intense focus on climate change strengthens the argument for designing roads to reduce demand from carbon-based transport and encourage more sustainable modes. Many older road users are clearly migrating their travel patterns away from car dependence and where roads are designed to disincentivise private vehicle use (reduced parking, greater allocation of road space to other modes) then older road users are a key audience that will yield benefits in terms or greater activity, safety and air quality.
Whilst urban design will undoubtedly cater for the needs of some older populations living in towns and city centres, the dispersal of this demographic group means that many are often living in suburban and semi-rural locations where transport connectivity remains poor and car dependence is high.
The rural road network is also in need of significant strengthening from a safe system perspective as speed limits remain high and roadsides are unforgiving.
Without giving consideration to the interconnectivity between populations living in these more rural locations and their need to access amenities in towns and cities the risks to them as road users will remain persistently high.
Pedestrians need separation from traffic and a reduction in the complexity of crossings. Longer crossing distances can cause issues for older pedestrians and cyclists and formalised pedestrian crossings can give insufficient time to allow older vulnerable road users to cross.
The extensive work of the Older Drivers Task Force explored the challenges facing older drivers in great detail. ‘Supporting safe driving into old age – A national older driver strategy’ highlighted a number of issues specifically relevant to the Safe Roads and Roadsides Pillar:
“The UK has not taken the needs of older drivers into account explicitly when developing its road design standards. However, designing well for older drivers often means no more than following existing design principles and standards with greater discipline. What is especially good for older drivers can be good for everyone… Older drivers particularly would be expected to benefit from the type of systematic safer intersection programmes being pursued in Victoria, Australia.”
Ensuring signing and wayfinding is clear and legible; the USA mandate a size for signs to aid older road users.
Ensuring signing is conspicuous and legible.
Ensuring road markings are clear and legible.
Considering using “Wrong Way” signing with clearer “No entry” road markings at the top of motorway/ dual carriageway slip roads to minimise all drivers from turning down these roads.
Consider the design of footways and kerbs to facilitate the movement of mobility scooters.
Ensuring that formal pedestrian crossings have audible warnings where possible, with tactile rotating cones and consider the length of the time of the pedestrian crossing phase.
Ensuring that tactile paving at crossing points is in the correct configuration and is in good condition.
Replace Pelican crossings with Puffin crossings if possible.
Considering “countdown” signals at intersections where there are pedestrian phases such as TfL use.
Ensuring there is adequate drainage at pedestrian crossing points to avoid ponding and possible slips/ trips due to surfaces being slippery.
Ensuring that gradients at dropped kerbs are acceptable for older pedestrian/ wheelchairs/ mobility scooters and that broken or missing dropped kerbs or pedestrian ramps are replaced.
Considering the effectiveness of street lighting in areas where older vulnerable road users may be crossing or using footways.
Considering replacing unsignalized junctions with roundabouts (if design guidance allows) as roundabouts can be a lower speed option which eliminate severe right-angle crashes and protect against unprotected right turns at junctions.
Considering providing pedestrian refuge islands for every 2-3 traffic lanes and providing kerb extensions for pedestrians.
Considering providing more off-road cycling facilities to enable older cyclists to feel more secure.
Separation from traffic -Older people need a comprehensive, connected footway network for them to walk comfortably without mixing with traffic when they are not actively crossing a road.
Reduction in the complexity of crossings – this includes design that allows older people to stage crossings and deal with one direction of traffic at a time (medians and pedestrian refuges). (Victoria Walks “Safer Road Design for Older Pedestrians”)