The most widely available but least read publication in the UK has to be the Highway Code. It cannot be recommended enough for all road users: drivers, cyclists and pedestrians alike.It’s available for free download at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/222621/dg_191955.pdf
But on BBC Radio Sussex this morning one of its signs was accused of stereotyping older people. The sign alerting other road users to the presence of older pedestrians looks like this:
No-one suggested removing the sign either from the roadside or from the Highway Code but the question remains, ‘How could this sign be redesigned and still be effective?’
Any road sign needs to be understood in an instant. This particular road sign has been debated before in the context of iconography that stereotypes older people but no-one has yet come up with a better one.
None of us becomes an old person overnight. Older people do just as well as young adults in many areas of everyday life but chronological age relates at least moderately with changes in sight and hearing – both senses we use to support our safety when using roads.
Reaching the age of 60, getting a bus pass, or a reduction at the cinema does not suddenly render you incapable of crossing the road safely. But in time, feeling confident to walk in areas where there is traffic may be reduced. And as our sight and hearing diminishes appropriate signage helps to remind the rest of the community that we may take longer to cross the road as we check for traffic, and may not see traffic at all which has approached at speed.
Casualty statistics show that the problem we are talking about is important. Per capita, older people suffer a markedly high rate of fatalities. According to Stats19 and ONS statistics, last year (2013) 5470 children between 5-15 years were pedestrian road casualties 21 of whom died. This equates to 1.5 casualties and 0.03 fatalities per 10,000 children in GB. By contrast 2,503 people aged 65 – 84 years were involved in accidents as pedestrians of which 94 resulted in fatalities. This equates to 0.89 casualties and 0.10 fatalities per 10,000 in GB. A lower rate of casualties but three times the rate of deaths. The outcome of a collision can be serious for the older age group. And as age increases, the percentage who die after such an incident rises alarmingly. So we really need to be reminded that older people are vulnerable and signage can help. The question is: what should it look like?