New Road-accident Data Justify Fears of Israel's Elderly

New data reveal that the percentage of people over the age of 65 who were killed in any sort of road accident in 2015 was 28 percent – three times their proportion in the greater population.

An elderly Israeli crossing the road. There was a 50-percent increase last year in the number of golden-agers killed in road accidents, according to new reports.
Ilan Assayag

My two 80-something neighbors usually go together to the grocery store, mainly so they can cross the street together. It’s not a busy thoroughfare and there isn’t a lot of traffic, but ever since an elderly neighbor of theirs was severely injured on a crosswalk – they have been afraid. So, they stand on the curb and warn each other about cars, and until they actually decide to step into the street, they’ve managed to hear all the latest family and neighborhood news.

This might sound like some sort of comic scene, but they are smart to behave this way: The number of pedestrians over the age of 65 who are killed by cars – 37 percent of all such fatalities, according to recent Central Bureau of Statistics – proves it.

According to a report by the Or Yarok (Green Light) road safety association, in 2015 the percentage of elderly people killed in any sort of road accident was 28 percent – three times their proportion in the greater population (which is a little over 10 percent), plus there was a 50-percent increase last year in the number of golden-agers killed in road accidents.

The report by the NGO, based among other things on research by Prof. Kobi Peleg, head of Israel's National Center for Trauma and Emergency Medicine Research, found that more than 10 percent of the elderly who were “merely” injured eventually died of their injuries (as opposed to 4.3 percent of the population in general). Clearly, the recovery process is slower for aged individuals, and rehabilitation takes longer.

The data also showed that most of the senior citizens killed in road accidents were men (although women comprise the majority in this population group), and that 24 percent of cyclists killed in such accidents were elderly.

Over the years, a number of infrastructure solutions have been proposed to address this situation – some proposed by the National Road Safety Authority, including speed bumps and road dividers. Some improvements have been implemented in areas were a large proportion of elderly people live.

MK Nachman Shai (Zionist Union), who is chairman of the caucus for senior citizens in the Knesset, has submitted a bill that would mandate longer intervals for stop-light changes at crosswalks, because slow walkers simply cannot cross the street fast enough before the light changes at the current intervals.

"Crosswalks have become death traps for senior citizens," says Shai. "A longer green light is the least that can be done to protect them. People don’t live long lives only to be killed on the road.”

Contrary to popular belief, the percentage of elderly drivers killed on the road, 10 percent, is slightly lower than their proportion in the country's total population. Says Or Yarok director Shmuel Abuhav: “There is a myth that elderly drivers should be taken off the road, but the figures clearly show that the problem is not their driving.”

He notes that many senior citizens do suffer hearing and vision loss and their response time is slower, however, “unlike young people, they are aware of their limitations and so most of them do not drive much. And when they do drive, they are cautious and so they are less frequently involved in serious accidents.”

Abuhav says he does not recommend taking older drivers off the road because to do so would be a “painful blow to their independence. You can’t demand that people give up their vehicles, especially as long as there is no convenient and efficient public transportation [in some areas]."

On another subject, related to Israel's elderly population, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman announced last week that government insurance coverage for chronic care for the elderly will begin in January 2017. Litzman said he had received a pledge from the coalition to finance this plan and agreement in principle from the Finance Ministry. The Israel Pensioners Organization backed the move, saying that according to a study it had made, most citizens are willing to pay a larger health tax to fund chronic care for the elderly.