Create society that supports safe movement of people

It is hoped that a newly introduced system will help prevent traffic accidents caused by elderly drivers and promote the creation of a safe and mobile society.

A system was launched in mid-May to require drivers 75 or older who have a history of specific traffic violations to take a driving skills test when renewing their driver’s license.

Those who must take the test are people who have committed traffic offenses, such as running a red light, speeding or driving in an opposite lane, during the three-year period up to 160 days before their birthday in their license renewal year.

While examinees are driving a car, testers rate their precision in stopping and other driving skills. The test can be taken as many times as a driver wants, starting six months before their license must be renewed. However, if they fail to pass the test by the renewal date, their license will be revoked. It is understandable that a license holder’s driving skills are assessed for any decline in order to help prevent accidents.

People 75 or older without traffic violations in the relevant period can renew their driver’s license if no problems are found when they take cognitive function tests and attend sessions for the elderly.

The new system makes it more difficult for people with a history of traffic violations to renew their driver’s licenses, but hopefully they will take this as an opportunity to assess their driving skills.

It is necessary to ensure fairness in the implementation of the driving skills test. Scoring must not be inconsistent depending on the tester. Shortening the wait time to take the test after applying appears to be another issue to address.

A new license system was also introduced, in which the holders of a limited license are allowed to only drive “safe driving support vehicles,” which are equipped with a device that curbs sudden acceleration when the driver applies the pedals incorrectly, and also have an automatic braking system.

Last year, 346 drivers age 75 or older caused fatal car accidents. Many of these drivers reportedly made steering errors or confused the accelerator and the brake pedal.

The spread of the license limited to vehicles with safety support functions can be expected to help reduce such accidents. This kind of license also could be an option for people who feel uneasy about driving, until they voluntarily return their driver’s licenses.

However, elderly drivers should not be overconfident even if they pass the skills test or drive cars with safety support functions. In addition to elderly people themselves ensuring that they drive safely, their families and those around them should also watch over them to prevent accidents.

More than 500,000 people returned their driver’s licenses last year. From now on, those who fail the driving skills test will also have to give up their licenses.

In regional areas, many people need a car as a means of transportation in everyday life. If elderly residents do not secure alternative transportation after giving up their driver’s license, the range of their activities will shrink. As a result, their mental and physical conditions could deteriorate rapidly.

Local governments across the nation have provided the elderly with bus and taxi tickets, but it is said that these tickets have not been fully utilized, for such reasons as there are a limited number of buses and taxis, or bus stops are located far away.

Some areas have promoted transportation services that are offered on a volunteer basis, as well as sharing rides among residents. It is important to consider how to support elderly residents based on each area’s circumstances.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 6, 2022)