National / Social Issues

License center sign flub: Older drivers are 'terrible'

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

They were mistakes, but they unintentionally made a serious point: Two signs in clumsy English at a new driver’s license center in Kyoto pointed out that older drivers may be unfit to take the wheel.

“Terrible driver,” the signs read.

They should have said “Elderly driver.”

The Kyoto Prefectural Police, which operates the center, said the signs appeared on Sept. 1 but were taken down on Tuesday.

“It was a maintenance company that made the mistake, but we didn’t check the English translation,” said Mikio Aoki, an official at the center. “We are terribly sorry for hurting seniors’ feelings.”

Since the center opened at the start of this month, some 9,000 people have passed through it to renew their licenses. None reported the mistake to staff, Aoki said.

In the end, it took a phone call from a Kyoto resident to the municipal office to get the mistake noticed.

The center in the city’s Kamigyo Ward accepts renewal applications from drivers who have not been penalized for violation of the traffic law, including seniors.

Statistics show the number of accidents caused by senior drivers is on the rise.

Aoki said motor skills deteriorate with age and older people may be unfit to drive.

The Japan Federation of Authorized Drivers School Associations says 1,472 drivers aged 70 and older had their driver’s license revoked in fiscal 2015.

The number was up by 486 from the previous year and was seven times higher than in 2009.

Last year’s tally included 565 people with confirmed cases of dementia.

To address the increasing number of fatal accidents caused by senior drivers, Japan has amended the Road Traffic Law, under which drivers aged 70 and older must attend a lecture on road safety before renewing their license. In fiscal 2015, 2.58 million people attended the lecture.

The federation says since the lectures were introduced, fatal collisions have been drastically reduced in all age groups compared with a decade ago.

It is not just elderly drivers who must attend the lectures. All people applying for renewal must undergo a vision test and sit for a lecture on road safety.

Additionally, drivers aged 75 and older wishing to renew the license are required to undergo a cognitive impairment screening test. Aoki said many fail.

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