Older pedestrians at rising risk for death in Portland
Pedestrians of advanced and elderly age face a rising risk of dying in traffic crashes, the Portland Bureau of Transportation warns.
The bureau says 26% of pedestrians slain in crashes were 65 years or older over the past five years. In the preceding five-year period, those 65 or older comprised about 16% of traffic fatalities in Portland.
Older residents make up 12% of the city's population.
"Oftentimes, people think it's just young people making poor decisions," said Hannah Schafer, a bureau spokeswoman. "What we're seeing is that this is a problem for everyone in the city, and it's impacting older Portlanders even more than in the past."
While the death of 82-year-old pedestrian Louanna Battams on Southeast Foster Road in June drew much public concern, Schafer said their review of crash data was not spurred by any particular incident.
PBOT's analysis corresponds with the conclusions of larger studies, including one conducted for AARP Oregon, which found that adults over age 50 were 64% more likely to die in a traffic collision while walking, compared with those under 50.
Street users age 70 or older have the highest per capita death rates, according to a 2018 study published in the Journal of Safety Research.
City leaders say that slower speeds are the surest route to reducing traffic deaths. In 2016, ProPublica reported that a 30-year-old pedestrian struck at 40 MPH has a 36% chance of dying, compared with a 70% probability for a 70-year-old.
PBOT director Chris Warner said: "This is another reminder that we need to keep designing and managing our streets with the most vulnerable people at the top of our minds and creating a safe street system, and that we all need to look out for each other when traveling."
The problem isn't Portland's alone. Pedestrian deaths across the U.S. have doubled since 2009, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Researchers theorize that Americans' preference for bigger cars, such as SUVs, may be driving the trend.
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