Although the annual traffic fatality rate has dropped from a peak of 16,765 in 1970 to 4,863 in 2010, the number of fatalities involving people aged 65 and over has been rising. In 2010, 2,450 people in this age category were killed in traffic accidents, accounting for 50.4 percent of all traffic accident deaths that year.

Since records began being kept in 1966, the fatality percentage for elderly drivers ranged between 30 percent and 40 percent through 2002, then exceeded 40 percent in 2003. 2010 marked the first year in which the figure surpassed 50 percent.

In an effort to help reverse this troubling trend, the National Police Department in 1997 introduced three measures: Drivers aged 75 or over were encouraged to place maple leaf stickers on their cars to let other drivers know they were elderly; were made to attend special driving lectures; and were encouraged to turn in their driver’s licenses if they felt they could no longer drive safely.

In 2008, the NPA made the display of the stickers obligatory and provided a provision for punishment for those who failed to do so. Many elderly drivers protested this policy change. Some felt that the measures constituted “bullying,” while others criticized the sticker design, saying it resembled a dead leaf.

From Feb. 1, the NPA introduced changes to the Road Traffic Law. It debuted a new four-leaf clover sticker that incorporates the letter “S” for senior, and called on drivers aged 70 years old and over to place the stickers on their vehicles if they feel that their age affects their driving. In addition, drivers who operate their vehicles in a manner that endangers vehicles displaying the clover stickers will be fined up to ¥50,000.

It is hoped that the clover sticker reminds all drivers, regardless of their age, to drive carefully. For its part, the public sector should continue to work to improve traffic safety for both elderly drivers and pedestrians.

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