National

Fatal crashes involving elderly drivers on the rise in Japan

Kyodo

The nation saw a rise in the number of fatal crashes caused by drivers aged 75 and over in 2018, police data showed Thursday, highlighting the country’s need to take further steps to curb such incidents amid the aging of its population.

Elderly drivers caused a record 14.8 percent of all 3,099 fatal collisions nationwide last year, according to the National Police Agency.

The number of fatal crashes caused by elderly drivers, at 460, was up 42 from the previous year for the first increase in six years.

Among the fatal incidents, cases where vehicles hit utility poles and other objects ranked first with 94, followed by collisions at intersections at 85 and head-on collisions at 70.

In terms of fatal accidents per 100,000 drivers, the figure for the elderly rose from 7.7 to 8.2. In contrast, the figure for drivers aged under 75 dropped to 3.4.

As of the end of last year, Japan had 5.63 million drivers aged 75 and over, and the number is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years.

“We need to take more preventive measures” as baby boomers join the ranks of the elderly, an NPA official said.

While Japan has already revised its road traffic law to toughen cognitive tests for elderly drivers, a panel at the agency is now considering introducing a conditional driver’s license, which restricts holders to drive only certain vehicles or in designated areas.

The number of all crashes in 2018 stood at 430,601, with 3,532 fatalities, both down from the previous year. The number of deaths marked a record low since comparable data became available in 1948.

The police data also showed a twofold increase in the number of drivers caught not keeping a proper distance from other vehicles.

The rise in the number of such cases, to 11,793 from 6,139 in 2017, apparently reflects increased efforts by the police to tackle dangerous driving practices, such as tailgating, following fatal road-rage incidents.

In June 2017, a couple died and their two daughters were injured on an expressway in Kanagawa Prefecture after a man overtook the family’s vehicle and forced it to stop in the passing lane, where they were hit from behind by a truck.

With a series of other road rage incidents following suit, the NPA instructed police forces nationwide in January last year to utilize all laws and regulations applicable to rein in dangerous driving.