National

Japan gets tougher on road rage and testing for elderly drivers

Kyodo

The Abe government on Tuesday gave the go-ahead to a bill that would impose harsher penalties for road rage incidents and institute measures aimed at reducing fatal accidents involving elderly drivers.

The proposed changes to the road traffic law would oblige drivers aged 75 and above with traffic offenses on their record to pass a driving test when renewing their license.

If they pass the test, such drivers would be issued a limited license allowing them only to drive vehicles equipped with advanced safety features, such as a special brake designed to prevent unintentional acceleration.

The government aims to have the bill enacted by the Diet during the current legislative session so the stricter road rage penalties will take effect this summer and the measures on elderly drivers in fiscal 2022.

“The number of accidents involving road rage and elderly drivers has become a major social problem. The government will do its best to have the bill enacted,” said Ryota Takeda, head of the National Public Safety Commission.

According to the National Police Agency, the bill would define road rage as “obstructive driving,” which includes aggressive tailgating and horn use. Driving on the wrong side of the road, sudden braking and weaving between lanes in an aggressive manner are among other dangerous acts that would be categorized as road rage.

Obstructive driving would incur a maximum three years in prison or ¥500,000 fine. Dangerous driving on an expressway would bring up to five years behind bars or a ¥1 million fine.

Aggressive tailgating on expressways currently draws a maximum three months in prison or ¥50,000 fine.

According to police data, there were 15,065 ticketed violations for tailgating last year across the country, up 15.7 percent from the previous year. More than 90 percent occurred on expressways.

As for the steps to ensure safe driving by the elderly, those with a record of offenses such as ignoring a traffic light or speeding would have their driving skills tested, according to the bill. Those who pass the practical driving examination would also have their cognitive functions tested.

Those who do not pass would not be able to renew their license, but they would be permitted to take the test multiple times.

The limited license requiring a car with advanced safety features would provide a new options for seniors currently being asked to consider voluntarily giving up their license and for drivers of any age group not fully confident in their ability to operate a vehicle.

The number of fatal accidents caused by drivers aged 75 and above stood at 401 in 2019, accounting for 14.4 percent of the total, slightly lower than the record set the year before, according to police data. Despite the decline, the figure is still considered high given the nation’s rapidly aging population.

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