The Association for Safe International Road Travel estimates that over 37,000 U.S. residents die in road crashes every year. For senior citizens, the risks of driving accidents often increase due to slowed reaction times, reliance on medication, or changes in vision or hearing. A recent report has found that seniors in Arizona, in particular, have become much more likely to be involved in a fatal crash in just the last few years.
Since people are living longer on average, seniors now account for a larger proportion of the population. Currently, there are an estimated 46 million people over the age of 65 living in the U.S., representing 15% of all Americans. By 2060, researchers estimate that this demographic will represent 24% of the entire population. Because seniors are living longer, more active lives, there are simply more older motorists out on the road.
Arizona is a popular spot for seniors — who retire, on average, at age 63 — to spend their twilight years due to the affordable cost of living and warm weather. According to a recent TRIP report, Arizona is home to nearly 900,000 licensed drivers over the age of 65. That’s around 18% of the state’s entire population.
But just because seniors are generally healthier these days doesn’t mean they’re driving more safely. The transportation research report found that since 2012, Arizona driver fatalities involving senior motorists have increased by a staggering 54% — far more than the national average increase of 22%.
Even more worrying is that experts aren’t quite sure why. Their best guess is that more drivers are choosing to operate their vehicles into old age. They also point to necessary infrastructure improvements to aid these senior drivers, like making signage more prominent with bigger font and increasing the width of lane striping.
Senior drivers aren’t the only ones at risk in Arizona, however. A recent Governor’s Highway Safety Association Study found that pedestrian fatalities in the Grand Canyon State are actually the highest in the nation. In the first half of 2017, Arizona had 1.61 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people, which is nearly double the national average of .81 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people.
While U.S. pedestrian deaths have been increasing at a faster rate than all other traffic deaths, this is particularly harrowing news for Arizona residents. As of early March, the city of Tucson had seven pedestrian fatalities since the beginning of 2018; in Phoenix, 10 pedestrian deaths occurred in just one week earlier this month. State officials have responded by calling the increase a “major crisis.”
The Governor’s Office of Highway Safety received a substantial grant (to the tune of $793,250) from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration this year to go towards pedestrian and bicyclist education and enforcement efforts throughout the state, says Alberto Gutier, director of the office. The funding will be used primarily in Tucson and Phoenix, but police departments in Mesa, Scottsdale, Chandler, Glendale, El Mirage, and Surprise will also receive a portion. The campaigns will focus on educating the public and correcting improper pedestrian behaviors.
“With preliminary pedestrian and bicyclists’ fatalities making up over 26% of Arizona’s total traffic fatalities last year, we have to do a better job of enforcing and educating the public on our traffic laws,” Gutier said in a statement.
Whether the improvements for pedestrians and senior drivers will have a noticeable impact on fatalities remains to be seen.