• Kyodo

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Elderly drivers with a history of traffic offenses may soon be obliged to take a driving skills test when renewing their licenses under a planned bill to be submitted to the Diet next year, government officials said Thursday.

The National Police Agency plans to submit the bill to revise the road traffic law amid concerns over a rise in fatal crashes involving older drivers.

Drivers age 71 or older are currently required to renew their licenses every three years. Those age 75 or older have to take a cognitive test.

The new test will check elderly drivers’ ability to stop, turn and carry out other basic maneuvers. Those who pass will then be required to take cognitive function tests. Those who fail can try again as many times as needed.

The agency is still considering whether the new skills tests, which will take part on test courses at sites such as driving schools, should be required for those age 75 and above or 80 and above, the officials said.

Drivers who don’t perform as well on the test may still be eligible for a new license the NPA will introduce. That certificate will allow drivers to operate so-called safety support cars, or vehicles equipped with advanced road safety features such as a system that prevents sudden acceleration.

The new license will also be available for drivers of all age groups who are not fully confident in their driving skills. The NPA will decide which vehicles meet the requirements of safety support cars.

As of late 2018, the rapidly graying country had 5.64 million people age 75 and over with driving permits. That number is expected to reach 7.17 million in 2023. In 2018, fatal accidents caused by drivers in that age group rose by 42 from the year before to reach 460.

Around 20 percent of such drivers have violated traffic rules over the past three years. The agency hasn’t yet determined which offenses will require elderly drivers to take the new skills test.

In April this year, an 88-year-old former senior bureaucrat caused a fatal accident in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro district, striking a toddler and her mother.

As well as prompting many elderly Japanese to surrender their driver’s licenses for fear of causing accidents, the incident led the agency to begin working on traffic law revisions.

In a recent survey conducted by an NPA panel on 2,000 people, 84.8 percent said they think elderly drivers are dangerous and 79.7 percent called for a review of the system for driving permits.

A separate NPA survey on 2,035 drivers age 69 or older showed 78.3 percent similarly think elderly drivers are dangerous, but only 46.0 percent called for a review of the license system.

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