More people aged 60 years and over have died from road crashes so far this year than in the two previous years, data reviewed by NationNewsplex reveals.
Between January and October 17 this year, 498 people aged between 60 and 90 died on Kenya’s roads. That is already 22 per cent more than the 407 who died in 2015, and 41 per cent more than the 354 who died in 2016.
The most deaths in that age group occurred among people aged 60 to 64, where 96 people died, followed by people aged 70-74 (94), 65 to 69 (83), and 76 people each among those aged 75 to 79 and 80 to 84, and 73 aged 85 to 90.
Motorists aged over 60 years who spoke to Newsplex said they tend to be more careful on the road, unlike when they were young.
John (not his real name) aged 65 said he drives slowly on the roads and tend to keep a distance between himself and the motorist ahead.
“I realise I take time to react, so it is better if I keep a distance between my car and the one ahead in case of an accident,” he said. He also avoids driving long distances, especially at night, and tends to give way, which angers motorists at times.
Ms Bright Oywaya, the Executive Director of Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT-Kenya), said slow reaction in emergencies could be one of the reasons of elderly drivers are involved in crashes, others being poor eyesight and hearing.
What is happening in Kenya is mirrored around the world. Data from the International Traffic Safety Data and analysis Group (IRTAD) shows the trend is the same in 40 countries, including Europe, Asia and the United States.
The 2017 Road Safety Annual Report says that while the number of road deaths dropped by 6.5 per cent overall, the number of senior citizen deaths (aged 65 years and above) across these countries increased by 3.4 per cent between 2010 and 2015.
The report classified more than half of elderly crash victims as vulnerable road users, that is pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists, especially in urban areas.
The World Health Organisation (WHO), predicts that people aged over 60 will double from 900 million in 2015 to two billion by 2050.
People aged at least 60 years will outnumber children younger than five years worldwide by 2020, which means the numbers of older people dying in crashes could rise if unchecked.
People worldwide are living longer and are expected to live well into their 60s and beyond, according to the WHO World Report on ageing and health 2015.
Ms Oywaya says this means they are engaged in activities that put them at risk at an older age.
Elderly are more vulnerable because they cannot move fast when crossing roads or cycling, she says. They also underestimate vehicle distance when crossing roads, sometimes due to poor vision, and so end up being hit.
“The number of senior citizens being killed on the road could be higher in urban areas because this is where there are many vehicles,” says Ms Oywaya, who is also a board member at NTSA.
While a considerable number of elderly drivers die in crashes, older pedestrians and cyclists, are more exposed because of factors such as slowness in walking or cycling, impaired hearing, and poor eyesight. Hearing aids, eyeglasses or eye treatment are available but not necessarily affordable, especially in middle and low-income countries.
There are no traffic policies or laws directly targeting the elderly both in Kenya and the countries highlighted in the IRTAD report. IRTAD calls for them to be considered, because they will soon form a larger demographic group worldwide.
“The numbers are already high and will increase in time. We should not wait until the deaths are so high to take action, the way we did with traffic issues concerning children,” she said.
It also recommends measures to ensure safe mobility for the ageing population, including enhanced intersection design, promotion of speed limits in areas with a high density vulnerable road users and safe and easy to access to public transport.
While Kenya’s Traffic Act, aims at enhancing safety of children, Ms Oywaya says the plight of older people should also be addressed, given the increase in senior citizens that WHO expects.
While there is no restriction on the elderly getting driving licences, the new driving curriculum, that is yet to become operational provides for annual medical check-ups before their driving licenses are renewed.
“This will ensure that people who are medically fit, despite their age, are allowed on the road. We should realise that there are older people who are physically fitter than young people,” she said.