Older pedestrians' safety is focus of federal grant to UNC;
New program aims to develop model for improving mobility

CHAPEL HILL — The University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center, in partnership with the community of Hendersonville, is launching an effort to develop a model program to create safer and more inviting walking environments for older adults.

The research team will work closely with Hendersonville residents to identify elements needed to implement an older-pedestrian safety program that is responsive to the community's needs. As part of the effort, funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, researchers will conduct assessments of Hendersonville neighborhoods through pedestrian interviews and environmental audits.

"In the end, we hope to have a vision for what constitutes a senior-friendly walking environment that can be easily adopted by communities across the country," said William Hunter, the center's senior research scientist. "Community involvement will be integral in developing a sound, integrated program."

Conducted in cooperation with the Senior Friendly Community Initiative, a statewide effort to create more livable communities, the project will work to build community support to raise awareness of older-pedestrian safety issues. The project will include extensive input from residents and key stakeholders on the development of an action plan to address specific older-pedestrian safety needs. The program also expects to educate local traffic engineers, planners, law enforcement personnel and health professionals on additional steps that can be taken to ensure the safety of older pedestrians.

"We are excited that the city of Hendersonville will serve as a springboard for this older-pedestrian safety program," said Chris Carter, Hendersonville's city manager. "The safety of our older citizens is a primary concern for the city, and we look forward to working together toward further improvements."

The center will evaluate the impact of the program to examine safety improvements and potential shifts in perceptions of walkability among Hendersonville residents.

The issue of older-pedestrian safety has jumped to the forefront of national attention with the swelling of the ranks of Americans age 65 and older. Older pedestrians involved in a crash are much more likely than younger pedestrians to suffer serious or fatal injury, due in part to the increased fragility that often comes with age. In fact, pedestrians ages 75 and older have a higher per population fatality rate than any other age group, according to a 2004 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Older pedestrians also are significantly overrepresented in pedestrian crashes that occur at intersections.

"Safety for seniors is a big concern here with over 31 percent of our community over the age of 65," said Karen Smith, director of the Henderson County Council on Aging. "We are looking forward to working on the issue."

In addition to funding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the project will have in-kind support from many state and local organizations, including the N.C. Governor's Highway Safety Program, N.C. Department of Transportation, N.C. Healthy Aging Research Network, Henderson County Council on Aging, N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Division on Aging and Adult Services, Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center and Henderson County Healthy Aging Council.

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UNC Highway Safety Research Center: Katy Jones, (919) 843-7007

Media Contacts

Caroline Dickson

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