Japan Easing Aging Drivers Out of Their Cars
Japan’s national police agency have reviewed statistics and have revealed that, drivers between 16 and 24 are more likely to cause traffic accidents more than any other age group but with that being said, the evidence suggests that last year in Japan, drivers over the age of 75 caused twice as many fatal accidents per 100,000 drivers as those under that age.
Even more startling is that, among drivers over 80 years old, the rate was three times as high as for drivers under that age. The news media in Japan are known for regularly featuring grisly reports of deaths caused by older drivers, some of whom are later discovered to have Alzheimer’s disease.
This trend in older drivers causing fatal accidents has prompted changes in the law in Japan. Since 2009, all drivers 75 and older must submit to a test of their cognitive functioning when they renew their licenses, typically once every three years. A new traffic law came into effect in March 2017 and those who score poorly are sent to a doctor for an examination, and if they are found to have dementia, the police can revoke their licenses.
More than 33,000 drivers who took the cognitive test in Japan last year showed exhibited some signs of cognitive impairment and were ordered to see a doctor. The police revoked just over 1,350 licenses after doctors diagnosed dementia.
An additional 460,000 older drivers showed slight impairment of their cognitive functions, based on their performance on the test, but were allowed to keep their licenses if they took a three-hour traffic safety course.
Many more though in Japan are voluntarily deciding to no longer get behind the wheel and are giving up driving for a variety of medical or psychological reasons. Hese older Japanese drivers have decided for themselves that they are no longer safe to drive and so have surrendered their licenses.
Japanese police as well as local governments and even some businesses actively encourage older drivers to surrender their licenses by offering incentives like restaurant coupons or discounts on buses and taxi rides.
In one police station in the town of Gotsu, a poster showed an older man reclining on a porch surrounded by family members and the line: “Please consult with the station soon if you think something is wrong with your driving.”
Noboru Moriwaki, 90, who lives with his wife up a curvy hill on the outskirts of a rural town in Japan, said he had no imminent plans to give up driving.
“If you can’t drive,” he said, “you can’t get on with your life.”
Before Atsumu Yoshioka, 81, decided to give up driving, there were signs it might be time.
During a visit to a shrine in rural Shimane Prefecture in western Japan, Mr. Yoshioka, a retired furniture maker, forgot to set the parking brake, spooking his wife, Kazuko, when the car drifted backwards.
Then one morning as he backed out of the driveway, he rammed into a large urn in front of their home. Haunted by television news reports of fatal accidents caused by older drivers, Mr. Yoshioka called it quits.
“Before I caused any serious accidents,I decided to give up driving.”
With a rapidly ageing population, Japan already has multiple checks in place to screen elderly drivers for dementia. Nevertheless, it is a large population and the screenings don’t identify people whose mental health deteriorates quickly. Experts believe this is why so many accidents involve elderly patients confusing the brake and accelerator pedals.
In November, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police introduced the “Driving Graduation Certificate.” When an elderly driver turns in their license, they receive a certificate, which looks like a real driver’s license. The document thanks them for all their years of driving. The certificate also provides 50% discounts on all buses and monorails. Additionally, it earns the recipient 10% off all taxi rides and meals at certain restaurants.
In Japan, elderly drivers pose such a threat to public safety that cities are offering a slew of discounts to stop them from driving. Although cheaper meals are one of the perks, the strangest benefit is discounted funerals. One funeral service company in Aichi is offering its own discounts. Any elderly person who voluntarily gives up their license receives at least 15% off their own funeral. On average, this is a savings of 56,000 yen, or $700. Additionally, the discount applies to all immediate family members of the elderly retired driver. While some supporters praise this new incentive, critics find it tasteless in light of the number of people killed in the country by elderly drivers.
As Japan’s population ages, so do its drivers. Japan has the oldest population in the world, with nearly 28 percent of its residents above 65 years old. One in seven people are over 75.