A legal revision to prevent elderly people with dementia from driving was enacted Thursday.
Under the revision to the Road Traffic Law, which will take effect sometime in the next two years, drivers aged 75 and older who have developed symptoms of dementia will have their license suspended or canceled.
The current system requires drivers aged 75 and over to take a cognitive function test every three years. Even if they are suspected of having dementia, elderly motorists are allowed to keep their license if they have not violated any traffic rules in the past year.
Under the revision, people suspected of having dementia will need to provide a medical certificate that they are capable of driving.
Among the country’s 130 million people in 2012, 4.62 million elderly had dementia, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.
The National Police Agency said that of 471 fatal accidents caused by drivers aged 75 and over in 2014, drivers in 181 cases, or 38 percent, had some form of cognitive impairment.
The legal revision passed the Lower House on Thursday after clearing the Upper House in April.
Of the 53,000 people whom police suspect of having dementia, only 1,236 went to the doctors for a detailed test, according to the NPA. Of them, 348 were diagnosed as having dementia and had their driver’s license revoked. Eight others had their license suspended while doctors monitored their conditions.
Meanwhile, a separate study by the National Center for Geriatrics and gerontology found that 61 percent of men aged 65 and older suspected of having dementia continue to drive.
If such people continue driving without consulting doctors about their memory loss and other cognitive problems, it could lead to serious crashes, the researchers warned.
“We can’t say for sure all of these people have dementia, but people who know dementia sufferers should urge them to see doctors immediately,” said Hiroyuki Shimada, director of the center’s preventive gerontology research division.
The Aichi-based center conducted memory tests on 10,000 men and women aged 65 and older in Nagoya and Obu, Aichi Prefecture, between 2011 and 2013.
Based on the test results, the researchers broke them down into three groups: people with no signs of dementia; those with signs of mild dementia who still had no problems in daily living; and those suspected of having dementia.
By gender, of the 162 men who were categorized as possible dementia sufferers, 99 drove cars. Twenty of the 130 women who were in the same category — or 15 percent — were drivers.
Among people suspected of having mild cognitive impairment, 86 percent of the men, or 2,078 men, and 37 percent of the women, or 854 women, said they drove cars, according to the study.