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Older drivers in Japan cause fatal accidents at twice the rate of under-75s, report shows

Kyodo, JIJI

People aged 75 or older caused more than double the number of fatal traffic accidents in 2018 than drivers younger than them on a per-driver basis, a government report showed Friday, highlighting the road safety challenges the country faces as its population rapidly ages.

According to the latest white paper on traffic safety approved by the Cabinet, drivers and motorcycle riders aged 75 or older caused 8.2 fatal accidents per 100,000 licensed road users in 2018, about 2.4 times the number caused by those aged 74 or younger. The number of accidents resulting in death by drivers aged 75 and over totaled 460.

By age group, those aged 16 to 19 caused the highest number of fatal accidents at 11.1 per 100,000 licensed road users. Those in their 30s caused 2.9 per 100,000 drivers, people in their 40s caused 3.0 and those in their 50s caused 3.3.

The report pointed to various ways the elderly driver issue could be addressed, such as promoting the use of vehicles with advanced safety technologies like automatic braking systems. It also said that efforts should be made so that elderly people can live more easily without driving.

“It is essential to build a society that allows senior citizens to live independently despite the degradation of their physical abilities due to aging, supported by advanced technologies and other means,” the paper said.

With the number of overseas visitors to Japan on the rise in the run-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, traffic accidents involving foreign drivers have also increased, the report showed.

Among accidents caused by drivers of rental cars in 2018, 158 were caused by foreign nationals, up 2.3 times from 2014, while the number of overseas visitors who used rental car services in Japan increased about eightfold from 2011 to around 1.4 million in 2017, according to the paper.

Mix-ups between the brake and the accelerator were more frequent among elderly drivers aged 75 and over than among younger drivers, the white paper also showed.

While the proportion of fatal accidents caused by confusion between the brake and the accelerator stood at 1.1 percent of the total for drivers under the age of 75, the rate rose to 5.4 percent among drivers aged 75 or over.

In 2018, the number of traffic deaths in Japan came to 3,532, hitting a record low since the statistics began in 1948.

Of them, those aged 65 and over accounted for a record high of 55.7 percent.

The proportion of elderly people among the number of pedestrians who died in traffic accidents stood at 71.5 percent.

The white paper stressed that the road safety of elderly people, both as pedestrians and drivers, is an important issue.

There is a need to use self-driving and other new technologies to enhance road safety, it said.

The report also looked back on the 30 years of the Heisei Era, which ended on April 30.

Traffic fatalities decreased sharply over the 30 years, with the number falling by over two-thirds during the period, it said.

As factors behind the decline, the report cited improvements in the rate of seat belt usage and the safety features of vehicles, including air bags, as well as tougher regulations against drunken driving.