The National Police Agency will submit a Road Traffic Law revision bill to the Diet next week to have drivers aged 75 or older suspected of having senile dementia see a medical doctor and submit a medical certificate to the police. The bill will also make it compulsory for elderly drivers get cognitive function tests if they commit certain types of traffic rule violations. Under the revisions, those found to have senile dementia must give up their driver's licenses. The revisions are welcome because drivers with senile dementia are likely to cause serious accidents. But given that cars are an indispensable means of transportation in more rural areas, local governments and communities should make efforts to provide transportation for elderly people who can no longer drive.
According to the NPA, drivers aged 75 or older were responsible for 458 fatal traffic accidents in 2013, an increase of 20 percent from 10 years early in 2003. Cognitive function tests of these drivers found that 31 percent of them suffered from memory and judgment impairments. Although fatal traffic accidents overall have been on the wane for 14 years through 2014, the percentage of such accidents caused by elderly drivers in that age category increased from 5.5 percent in 2003 to 11.9 percent in 2013.
In 2013, for every 100,000 drivers in that age bracket, there were 10.8 fatal accidents — about 2.5 times the corresponding figure of 4.4 such accidents for drivers under the age of 75. The NPA also says that people suffering from impaired memory and judgment tend to engage in dangerous driving practices such as driving in the opposite lane, weaving, ignoring traffic lights and signs, braking too late and mistaking the acceleration pedal for the brake pedal. They also sometimes fail to remember where they are going.