The invisible road toll

17 Mar 2016

Ground breaking new research has found trips and falls in the street send over 5,000 pedestrians to hospital each year – even more than collisions with cars.

The research, the first of its kind in Australia, was undertaken by the Monash University Accident Research Centre, commissioned by Victoria Walks and funded by VicHealth.

The report Fall Related Injuries While Walking in Victoria outlines the findings of the research. While collisions with vehicles result in about 1,600 pedestrian casualties in Victoria each year, pedestrian falls account for an average of 1,680 hospital admissions and 3,545 emergency department presentations.

“No Australian research has taken a detailed looked at injuries caused by falls in the street before,” said Dr Jennifer Oxley, Associate Professor of the Research Centre and lead author of the report. “We didn’t really understand the scale of the problem until now.”

“One of the more surprising things for us was that falls in the street affect all adult age groups,” said Ben Rossiter, Executive Officer of Victoria Walks. “However, older people are more fragile so more likely to be seriously injured and they take longer to recover,” Dr Rossiter said.  “The hospitalisation rate for those aged 85 or more was 14 times that of those aged 35-64,” Dr Oxley noted.

The study found over 25 per cent of hospital admissions from falls were for injuries to the lower extremities (e.g. legs/feet and hip).

“The consequence of falling in the street can be devastating, particularly for elderly walkers” said Dr Rossiter. “Falling and breaking a hip can be life changing and lead to premature death. International research shows that up to 40 percent of hip fracture patients die within a year of their injury.”

Falls resulting in a visit to hospital are just the tip of the iceberg - the research did not include injuries that were treated at a GP or medical centre.

Victoria Walks hope the report will force a rethink of road safety, with road managers and safety experts considering falls in the street as well as traffic collisions.

“We call on the Victorian and Federal Governments to start investing in making walking safer, supporting councils to improve footpath surfaces and road crossings,” said Dr Rossiter. “There are great economic costs associated with falls and ill health and they cannot simply expect local councils to foot the bill to fix things.”

There is an excellent story in The Age on this research and both Ben and Jennie have been interviewed on ABC Radio. The research will be presented to the Smart Urban Futures conference on 23 March.

Read the report here.