Crossing the road in time: Finding the right pace for older adults

Author: Laura Asher
Institution: University College London
Type of case study: Research

About the research

The ability to cross the road safely is important for the health of older people, and having enough time is important for crossing the road safely. At present, crossing timings in the UK assume that pedestrians are able to walk as least as fast as 1.2 metres per second (2.7 miles per hour).

This study aimed to assess how appropriate this speed is based on average ‘normal’ walking speeds for older adults in the UK and the proportion who are able to walk at least 1.2 metres per second. The researchers also investigated socio-demographic and health predictors of walking impairment.

The findings show that most older adults either cannot walk eight feet safely or cannot walk fast enough to use a pedestrian crossing in the UK. In fact, among those able to walk 8’ unaided, the normal walking speed was below 1.2m/s for 76 per cent of men and 85 per cent of women aged 65 and over, and the average walking speed is 0.9 metres per second (2.0mph) in men and 0.8 metres per second (1.8mph) in women. The likelihood of walking impairment is greater among women and with increasing age, lower socio-economic status, poorer health and lower grip strength. The health impacts on older adults include limited independence and reduced opportunities for physical activity and social interaction.

The main recommendation from the research is that an assumed normal walking speed for pedestrian crossings of 1.2 metres per second is inappropriate for older adults. For this reason, a revision of these timings should be considered.

Methodology

‘Normal’ walking speed was assessed by timing how long it took the participant to walk eight feet at their normal pace. The median, mean and standard deviation of walking speed and the proportion of participants with a walking speed less than 1.2 metres per second were calculated. A new variable, walking impairment, was derived.

‘Walking impairment’ was defined as the participant being unable or unsafe to take the walking speed test or having a walking speed of less than1.2 metres per second. Logistic regression modelling was used to determine the association between potential explanatory variables and walking impairment.

Explanatory variables included health (self-reported health, limiting long-standing illness, mobility, falls, functional limitations and BMI); health behaviours (smoking and alcohol consumption); and demographic information (age, gender and ethnicity). Area deprivation was assessed using the Index of Multiple Deprivation 2004. Statistics were adjusted for clustered stratified sampling and weighted to reduce non-response bias.

Publications

Asher, L., Aresu, M., Falaschetti, E. and Mindell, J. (2012) ‘Most older pedestrians are unable to cross the road in time: a cross-sectional study’, Age and Ageing, 41 (5): 690–694. doi: 10.1093/ageing/afs076

The findings were used as the evidence base for the ‘Give us three more seconds’ campaign by the NGO Living Streets for the timings for pedestrian crossings to be extended to use slower assumed walking speeds. http://www.livingstreets.org.uk/older-people-need-3-more-seconds-to-cross-road-says-living-streets

This study has also received wide media coverage, including:

Adams, S. (14 June 2012). ‘Traffic light crossings ‘too quick for pensioners’’. The Telegraph. Retrieved 19 June 2014 from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/9329038/Traffic-light-crossings-too-quick-for-pensioners.html

Ingham, J. (14 June 2012). ‘Road crossing lights ‘too fast’ for the elderly’. Express. Retrieved 19 June 2014 from http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/326452/Road-crossing-lights-too-fast-for-the-elderly

Jenny, H. (14 June 2012) ‘Elderly ‘struggle to make pedestrian crossings in time’ [Video file]. BBC News. Retrieved 19 June 2014 from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-18437971

Lever, A. (14 June 2012). ‘Green man ‘too fast for slow elderly’. BBC News. Retrieved 19 June 2014 from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-18428042

Muffett, T. (19 November 2013) ‘Do we need longer to cross the road?’ [Video file]. BBC News. Retrieved 19 June 2014 from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-24998119

Macrae, F. (13 June 2012). ‘Pelican racetracks! Green man crossings are a death trap for any pensioner not nimble enough to walk at 4ft per second, warn researchers’. MailOnline. Retrieved 19 June 2014 from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2158971/Green-man-crossings-death-trap-pensioner-nimble-walk-4ft-second.html

Pank, P. (20 November 2013). ‘Traffic lights change ‘too fast for elderly’. The Times. Retrieved 19 June 2014 from http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/uk/article3926533.ece

Riley-Smith, B. (19 November 2013). ‘Traffic lights fail to give elderly enough time to cross road’. The Telegraph. Retrieved 19 June 2014 from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/motoring/road-safety/10459654/Traffic-lights-fail-to-give-elderly-enough-time-to-cross-road.html

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