Japan’s seniors face shorter driving tests in bid to slash waiting list


Long waiting lists for elderly drivers needing to take mandatory safe driving courses has prompted changes to the Road Traffic Act.

The reforms, which took effect earlier this month, also strengthen dementia checks for elderly drivers.

Under the revised law, the driving course that people aged between 70 and 74 must take to renew their driver’s license every three years was shortened to 120 minutes from 150 minutes, as was that for those aged 75 or older who have no cognitive impairment.

But the overall number of senior drivers who need to take such driving courses is expected to increase due to the introduction of new extraordinary checks aimed at detecting signs of dementia and a driving course for drivers aged 75 or older who violate certain traffic rules, such as ignoring traffic lights.

Against this background, police are calling on elderly drivers to make reservations as early as possible to take the mandatory course, which can be taken six months before their license is due to expire.

The courses are offered at driving schools across the country, as well as at driving license centers in 38 prefectures.

In 2016, some 2.53 million elderly drivers aged 70 or older took mandatory driving courses, including 1.58 million aged 75 years or above.

Annually, some 180,000 elderly drivers are expected to undergo extraordinary cognitive function checks that must be taken by those who break any of 18 specific traffic violations, with 60,000 of them projected to take a subsequent driving course.

Under the revised law, Japan also hopes to utilize event data recorders to raise awareness of elderly people about their fading driving skills.

If people aged 75 or older are judged to have signs of dementia or a decline in their cognitive functions when they renew their driver’s license, they will have to take a private driving lesson using a car installed with an event data recorder.

“The point of this lesson is to show elderly people their driving skills in an objective way,” said an official of the National Police Agency.

“We may invite some senior drivers to give up their license,” the official said. “But we hope to give advice to elderly people in order to help them to remain safe drivers as long as possible by calling on them to avoid driving at night and for long distances.”