August 9, 2019
On June 13, a terrible traffic accident happened in Tokyo. A car which operated by an 88 years-old man attacked pedestrians. In total, 8 people were injured, and a mother and daughter were killed. The man claimed that the gas pedal didn’t return, and the brake didn’t work. However, nothing was found to be wrong with the car after it was inspect. The police suspect that the old man mistook the gas pedal for the brake. This accident set off public debates about elderly drivers in Japan and there is a growing body of people who believe that elderly driver should return their driver’s licenses.
The Risk of Elderly Drivers
In Japan, there have been a number of fatal accidents by elderly drivers. In 2017, The average fatal accident by people over the age of 75 per one hundred thousand was 7.7 cases. In contrast, that number for people under the age of 75 years old was 3.7 cases (see Figure 1). What is the cause of accidents by elderly people?
Everyone is getting older and aging influences the body. It causes some difficulties for elderly people to drive. One of difficulties is cognitive function. Cognitive function affects the ability to memorize and judge. If elderly people have less cognitive function, they cannot concentrate on driving and on various circumstances. There is a possibility of various traffic violations such as ignoring a traffic light or failing to turn the wheel.
Another difficulty is decreasing eyesight. 80% of the essential information for drive comes from eyesight. But the eyesight of some people in their 70s is only one third as large as that of in their 40s. In addition, the disease of eye by aging such as cataract or glaucoma makes it difficult for elderly people to drive. Their sight is so narrow that they overlook bicycle running the edge of a road and cannot try to dodge dangerous situations quickly.
The most dangerous thing is that elderly people drive without realizing how dangerous it can be. In NHK news, 53% of people over 75 years old are confident in avoiding danger while they are driving. They put more emphasis on their own experience than on traffic rules.
The Government Effort to Prevent Traffic Accident by Elderly People
In 2013, the government announced their efforts to promote elderly traffic safety. The govt held lessons for elderly drivers. They reconfirm skills and information about safe driving thorough driving training or classes. To improve traffic conditions, the govt is working on getting larger road signs or increasing the number of road lights.
However, because traffic fatal accident by elderly people happened in succession in 2016, the govt held a ministerial conference and made efforts reform. The govt wants to support elderly people in the whole of society. The ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism wants the quality of elderly people lives to remain the same even without their own car. The ministry asks car manufactures to develop auto safety function such as an automatic brake or a speed control system for preventing to mistakes.
In addition, the govt offers the system to return licenses voluntarily. When elderly people quit car driving because of their declining abilities, they can return their drivers licenses. If they apply within 5 years after returning their drivers licenses, it is possible to utilize driving career certificate as an identification document.
The Current Situation for Elderly Drivers
Some people insist it is better for elderly people to return driver’s license. However, the reality doesn’t work. People in the countryside have no way to go downtown as the countryside doesn’t have infrastructure as well as urban places. Besides, because they don’t drive, the decrease of their cognitive ability may be stimulated.
Certainly, it is difficult to solve the problem about elderly driver immediately. However, If the society that supports the elderly much more than now is realized, the tragic accident will decrease.