The hit-and-run death of 86-year-old Quirino Aguisanda in Waipahu early Monday underscores the continuing problem of pedestrian deaths among seniors in Hawaii.
A report released Tuesday by Transportation for America, a nonprofit organization devoted to transportation reform with an emphasis on pedestrian safety, pointed to a study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control showing Hawaii ranking first in the category of pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people 65 and older between 2000-2007.
Hawaii’s 7.21 pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 seniors is significantly higher than the 5.42 pedestrian fatals per 100,000 seniors in Alaska, the state ranked second highest. The national average was 2.92 per 100,000.
"Older adults are 96 percent more likely to be killed while walking than those under 65 years of age," according to the Transportation for America report "Dangerous by Design." "Older pedestrians represent nearly 22 percent of total pedestrian fatalities (from 2000 to 2007), despite comprising less than 13 percent of the nation’s population."
The Transportation for America report said existing pedestrian apparatus, such as the duration of crosswalk signals, ignores the needs of older pedestrians. Older walkers are also more likely to have physical impairments that tend to decrease their ability to avoid oncoming traffic, the report said.
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Officials with AARP Hawaii said more recent statistics reaffirm that senior pedestrians continue to be a major traffic concern.
Hawaii again ranked first among senior pedestrian deaths, this time in a study released by the state Health Department using statistics provided by the federal Fatality Analysis Reporting System studying a four-year data period from 2005-2009.
That study showed Hawaii had 69 seniors killed from 2005-2009, or 28 for every 100,000 people age 60 and older. Second highest was California, with 978 deaths, or 18.1 deaths per 100,000.
Jackie Boland, AARP Hawaii’s associate state director for community outreach, echoed the conclusions made by Transportation for America about why senior pedestrian deaths remain high.
"Our pedestrian infrastructure is inadequate when you take into consideration the increasing number of older adults with physical disabilities along with what appears to be an increasing number of cars on the road," Boland said.
Boland said the state Legislature passed a "complete streets" policy several years ago, requiring the state and each county to take into consideration pedestrian concerns and pedestrian safety.
Officials with the state Department of Transportation and Walk Wise Hawaii, a department public education program, said the percentage of senior pedestrians killed compared with all Hawaii residents has gone down in recent years.
Until 2007, the time frame used by the CDC study cited in the Transportation for America report, seniors made up a majority of the pedestrian deaths in Hawaii, said Dan Meisenzahl, transportation spokesman.
In each of the years since, including the first five months of 2011, older people have made up less than 40 percent of pedestrians killed, Meisenzahl said.
"We think the drop in senior citizen fatalities statewide might be partly because of our public awareness campaign," he said.
The program encourages motorists and pedestrians to be more careful. Among the tips given to older pedestrians are to make eye contact with motorists before crossing a street and to use more caution during dawn and dusk when visibility is poor, he said.
Lance Rae, a spokesman for Walk Wise Hawaii, agreed. "Senior pedestrian fatalities now represent 37 percent of the total pedestrian fatalities statewide," he said. "Walk Wise Hawaii has been focusing on senior citizens the past several years, and clearly, senior pedestrians are changing their habits and less likely to be struck in a crosswalk than five years ago."
The department, meanwhile, has tried to identify the most dangerous areas for pedestrians and look into what improvements can be made to them, Meisenzahl said. Sometimes the improvements can be as simple as painting crosswalk stripes or installing countdown timers that allow adequate time for pedestrians to make it through crosswalks, he said.
The department is also trying to implement its statewide pedestrian plan, which it hopes to finalize and take out to public hearing soon, Meisenzahl said.
Capt. Keith Lima of the Traffic Division said the Police Department also recognizes the continuing concern about older pedestrians.
"All pedestrian-motor vehicle collisions are a concern for us, including those involving senior citizens," Lima said.
As with other traffic concerns, HPD is meeting the problem through enforcement and education, Lima said.