We all know that driver and pedestrian safety is important in any populated area. And we all know that when new roads are being planned, the council and Government want us to be safe by putting in pedestrian crossings, bike paths and so on. But why then do we have signs that reinforce tired stigmas on particular groups of people? I am talking of course about elderly crossing signs. You’ve seen them – they are the signs showing a person hunched over holding a cane or walking frame.
So, what purpose do these signs serve? Apart from the obvious – to slow down – what other information do these signs truly provide? If a car were approaching a suburban area, common sense would be that the driver takes care and reduces his/her speed. These signs provide no more information than those ‘baby on board’ stickers, which are optimistically slapped onto cars by parents in the hope that other drivers will take greater care around their vehicle. You can hope that a driver will consider the age of the passenger however there is no guarantee that this will factor into anyone’s driving performance.
There are others who share my opinion on this topic. The UK’s TSAR for older workers, Dr. Ros Altmann, stated in an interview last week that she wants to remove elderly crossing signs from the streets. Speaking with The Sunday Times, she highlighted how a country with an ageing population would be unwise to push the idea that the elderly are naturally weak, or disabled. By doing so, employers may be at greater risk of being discouraged of hiring individuals over 50.
As Australia has an equally ageing population, our country could be faced with a similarly unemployed generation if the current stereotype of elderly people is continually perpetuated. What then would happen if employers around Australia refuse to hire the elderly due to this dated idea of frailty that keeps popping up on our streets? There is enough discrimination for over 60s in the workplace as it is.
It seems then that we may have to rethink the way in which we warn drivers to slow down or perhaps warn pedestrians whether walking is safe or not. The recent implementations of the ‘countdown’ footpaths have been successful and don’t discriminate whether you’re young or old…you just go! You may have seen them around your suburb, where they show an actual countdown to both cars and pedestrians of how much time they have to get to the other side.
While these are obviously not a full proof way to ensure road safety, technological advances in preventative measures may be the key that enables us as a society, and not signs that blatantly spread worn-out ideas. Over 60s are more active than ever and don’t need to be treated as if they are different or impaired – we’re living into our 90s and beyond and have plenty more life in us! Crossing the road is the least of our problems. We clearly need to break down stereotypes around the little old lady crossing the street so we can begin to be treated fairly by society.
What do you think? Are elderly pedestrian crossings discriminatory? Or are they needed? Share your thoughts below.