People aged 75 or older caused more than double the number of fatal traffic accidents in 2018 than drivers younger than them on a per-driver basis, a government report showed Friday, highlighting the road safety challenges the country faces as its population rapidly ages. According to the latest white paper on traffic safety approved by the Cabinet, drivers and motorcycle riders aged 75 or older caused 8.2 fatal accidents per 100,000 licensed road users in 2018, about 2.4 times the number caused by those aged 74 or younger. The number of accidents resulting in death by drivers aged 75 and over totaled 460. By age group, those aged 16 to 19 caused the highest number of fatal accidents at 11.1 per 100,000 licensed road users. Those in their 30s caused 2.9 per 100,000 drivers, people in their 40s caused 3.0 and those in their 50s caused 3.3.
The nation saw a rise in the number of fatal crashes caused by drivers aged 75 and over in 2018, police data showed Thursday, highlighting the country's need to take further steps to curb such incidents amid the aging of its population. Elderly drivers caused a record 14.8 percent of all 3,099 fatal collisions nationwide last year, according to the National Police Agency. The number of fatal crashes caused by elderly drivers, at 460, was up 42 from the previous year for the first increase in six years. Among the fatal incidents, cases where vehicles hit utility poles and other objects ranked first with 94, followed by collisions at intersections at 85 and head-on collisions at 70. In terms of fatal accidents per 100,000 drivers, the figure for the elderly rose from 7.7 to 8.2.
Elderly drivers should be subject to more stringent physical examinations to prevent traffic accidents, according to the results of a government survey released Thursday. "We'll consider conducting tests on the reaction speed of elderly drivers," a Cabinet Office official said, noting that seniors with failing eyesight sometimes fail to spot pedestrians and traffic signs. With multiple answers allowed, 70.7 percent of the respondents see a need to conduct tighter physical exams on elderly drivers, the survey showed. It also showed that 59.2 percent want a system to diagnose dementia early, 52.9 percent want public transportation to be improved to the point that it can serve as an alternative to driving, and 52.7 percent see the need to expand benefits for seniors who give up their driver's licenses. Interviews for the survey were conducted in the second half of November and drew responses from 3,000 people 18 or older.
On Nov. 12, in the city of Tachikawa in western Tokyo, an 83-year-old female driver -- while reaching out her car window to insert a parking ticket into the toll gate machine in a hospital parking lot -- accidentally pushed down on the accelerator and lost control of her vehicle. It crossed the road and ran down a man and woman, killing them both. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, four days later Prime Minister Shinzo Abe presided over an emergency conference to discuss accidents by elderly drivers, which were described as an "urgent issue." There was a time when the elderly made up a preponderant share of Japan's traffic accident victims. They crossed streets too slowly, veered their bicycles into moving traffic or wore dark clothing that made them hard to see at night, and so on.
About 106,000 people aged 75 or older voluntarily returned their driver's licenses in Japan between January and May, a much faster pace than a year earlier. In March, the revised Road Traffic Law came into force, introducing tougher tests to detect signs of dementia among elderly drivers renewing their licenses. Last year, a total of about 162,000 drivers aged 75 or older returned their licenses. In the period from January to May, the number of fatal traffic accidents caused by people aged 75 or older plunged 14.2 percent from a year earlier to 151, hitting the lowest level in 10 years, apparently reflecting the new legislation. Outstanding issues include how to secure doctors for diagnosing dementia and how to reduce waiting times for mandatory driving lessons.