National

Japan plans new driver's license system for elderly as accidents surge

Kyodo, Staff Report

In the wake of a slew of fatal accidents involving elderly drivers, the government plans to create a new driver’s license system that limits senior citizens to cars with safety features such as automatic brakes.

The proposal will be included in the government’s growth strategy to be approved by the Cabinet later this month, sources said Monday. The National Police Agency, the land ministry and other related ministries will hold further discussions to work out the details, which will be released by the end of the current fiscal year.

The new license system will target drivers aged 75 years or older, who are required to take a cognitive assessment test when they renew their licenses. Alongside the system, the government will discuss ways to popularize safety enhanced vehicles. It will also promote measures to provide senior citizens with sufficient transport options.

According to the National Police Agency, there were 460 fatal traffic accidents in Japan last year caused by drivers aged 75 or over. The proportion of such accidents among all fatal accidents increased from 8.7 percent in 2008 to 14.8 percent in 2018.

The agency, which commissioned three panels of experts to consider ways to prevent accidents caused by elderly drivers, released a report in April. The report cited a need to consider introducing a driver’s license that limits drivers to certain types of vehicles at specific times and in certain areas.

In April, a car driven by Kozo Iizuka, 88, a former government official, hit and killed a 31-year-old woman and her 3-year-old daughter in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro district. Six other passersby were injured in the incident.

Earlier this month, a car being driven by an 81-year-old man sped through an intersection in the city of Fukuoka, crashing into five other vehicles. The man and his wife died in the accident and 7 other people were injured.

In both cases, it is believed that the drivers may have mistaken the throttle for the break pedal.

A government survey on the transport habits of those aged 60 or above released earlier this month showed that 1 in 4 people aged 80 or older still drive.

The percentage of elderly people who said they drive was higher in rural areas, where public transportation services are limited, indicating cars are indispensable tools for the elderly to go shopping or visit hospitals.

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5