According to study by Transportation for America, a nonprofit safety advocacy organization, Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater is the second most dangerous place to walk in the United States. In fact, the four most dangerous metropolitan areas in the country are all in Florida. Furthermore, the study reports, people 65 and older make up 13% of the population but represent about 22% of pedestrian deaths. Florida leads the nation in the size of its over-65 senior population.
Now add to this boom in the senior population another Florida trend—the trend toward multi-lane highways—and you have a lethal combination.
Among those over the age of 65 are many people who have health problems that prevent them from driving, leaving walking as their primary means of transportation. Even among those older people who still drive, walking is often their main form of exercise.
As people age, changes in vision, hearing, and mobility create safety challenges when crossing roads. These challenges are multiplied when it becomes necessary to cross many lanes. Many older people need more time to cross than existing signals allow. At non-signalized crosswalks, less accurate visual perception may make it difficult to accurately judge the distance of approaching traffic or the distance from one side of the street to the other. And with age, people become physically more vulnerable and are more likely to die from their injuries when struck by a car.
Clearly, with the number of older pedestrians in Florida on the rise, we need to consider the safety needs of this population. But almost two-thirds of engineers and transportation planners surveyed indicated that they don’t consider the needs of older people in their plans.
Miami-Dade County has instituted a community education program, funded by the Florida Department of Transportation, called Safe Crossings, designed to reduce the number of elderly people being killed or injured while attempting to cross streets. The program is attempting to identify the city’s most dangerous intersections and is advocating for safety improvements. It is also working to identify the safest behaviors for elderly pedestrians and to provide educational programs and safety materials.
Florida has always had a substantial senior population and, as the baby boom generation ages, that demographic will continue to grow. In 2010, Florida’s over-65 population was 17.8%. This is projected to grow to a whopping 27.1% by 2030.
It may be time for Pinellas County to join Miami-Dade in taking steps to reduce pedestrian injuries and death among our older citizens. Making crosswalk markings more visible, using stop lines for vehicles approaching crosswalks, increasing the number of crosswalks with signals, allowing longer amounts of time for crossing, adding pedestrian islands to multi-lane roads, constructing pedestrian overpasses, increasing police surveillance, enforcing traffic laws more stringently, and educating drivers and pedestrians on care and safety measures are some of the strategies that can prevent needless injury and death in an aging population.
Attorney Jim Dodson is the author of a free consumer book the Florida Pedestrian Accident Guide, available to Florida residents who have been injured in a pedestrian accident. If you want to speak directly to attorney Dodson and have your questions answered; call 727-446-0840. There is no cost or any obligation to discuss the circumstances of your accident.