• Kyodo, JIJI

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The number of fatal accidents caused by drivers age 75 or older fell to 401 in Japan in 2019, accounting for 14.4 percent of the total, slightly lower than a record high seen the previous year, police data showed Thursday.

Despite the fall, the figure is still considered to be a reason for concern given the nation’s rapidly graying population. The number of deadly crashes caused by the elderly dropped by 59 from 2018’s figure, according to the National Police Agency. Drivers age 85 or over were responsible for 72 of the 401 fatal crashes involving elderly drivers.

A total of 5,826,673 people age 75 or over held driver’s licenses as of the end of 2019. The number of fatal traffic accidents per 100,000 license holders age 75 or older stood at 6.9 in 2019, down 1.3 from the previous year. The figure is 3.1 for those under 75.

In April last year, an 88-year-old former senior bureaucrat hit and killed a toddler and her mother when he allegedly drove through a red light in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro district after mistakenly pressing the gas pedal instead of the brake. The accident sparked public outcry and calls for preventive measures.

The NPA aims to submit a bill to amend the law so that senior drivers with records of traffic offenses will be obliged to have their driving skills tested when they renew their licenses. The agency also plans to introduce a new license that only allows drivers to operate cars equipped with advanced road safety features, such as a brake to prevent unintentional acceleration, as part of efforts to reduce the number of accidents.

By accident type among the 401 fatal incidents involving elderly drivers, 77 involved collisions with objects such as utility poles and road signs, 67 were collisions with other vehicles when passing, 60 were head-on accidents and 55 involved vehicles veering of the road.

The agency also analyzed the causes of the 385 deadly accidents that did not involve a motorcycle, and among them, 29.9 percent, or 107 cases, were blamed on driver error. Of those cases, 14.8 percent, or 53 cases, were caused by errant steering inputs while 7.8 percent, or 28 cases, were caused by mistaking the gas pedal for the brake.

The overall number of people killed in traffic accidents in 2019 fell to 3,215, the lowest level since comparable data became available in 1948, while the overall number of fatal traffic accidents in 2019 came to 2,780, down by about 1,600 from a decade ago, according to the NPA. The total number of road traffic accidents last year also decreased from the previous year to 381,237.

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