Japan Moves To Prevent Elderly Drivers From Causing Accidents
Automologist LING questions whether the elderly are being treated fairly.
Last month, an 80-year-old driver at a supermarket in Osaka reversed his car into four people, two of them children. Earlier this year, another octogenarian fatally drove into two women and a child at a zebra crossing in Tokyo and, in a separate incident, a driver in his sixties lost control of his car and injured five nursery school children. These are the incidents that make headlines in recent years.
Do accidents caused by elderly drivers occur more frequently or do they simply get greater, more sensational coverage in the media? The data from the Japan National Police Agency appears to support the former. Fatal car and motorcycle accidents had decreased in 2018 yet the number of cases involving drivers over 75 years old went from 42 to 460, ie. an alarming 995% increase.
With Japan’s ageing population, it appears to be wise that the government recently announced plans for a new driver’s license system that requires senior citizens to drive only cars equipped with certain safety features, such as automatic braking system. Those ages 75 and above are also required to undergo a cognitive assessment test every time they renew their license.
Are these stricter requirements necessary for the safety of these seniors and their fellow road users or is this some form of ageism? While the rate of fatal accidents involving the elderly might be increasing at an alarming rate, it contributed to just 14.8% of total fatal accidents in the country.
A 2003 study by the National Traffic Safety and Environment Laboratory of Japan found that young drivers (ages 16-24) were involved in the majority of traffic accidents and were faster drivers, albeit they are also able to react faster to avoid collisions. It also found that there were significantly more nighttime drunk driving accidents involving young- and middle-aged drivers. The study may be old but no “special” road rules were enforced then for those age groups: there was no implementation of a speed limiter device for young drivers nor breath alcohol ignition interlock device for them and the middle-aged.
Of course, it is great that there are safety features that can help the elderly continue to drive safely for longer, and the elderly should use them. But singling these group of people out and having rules that apply just for them smells a wee bit like discrimination to me.