The following is a conversation I recently overheard between an elderly man and a visual acuity examiner when I visited a vehicle-licensing center in western Tokyo to have my driving license renewed.
“Can you recognize that?”
“No, I can’t.”
“How about this?”
“‘Left,’ isn’t it?”
“No, that is not ‘Left.’”
“You can recognize this, can’t you?”
“Could be an ‘Up.’”
“Sorry, no. How can you drive a car? You should have another eye test, anyway.”
I do not know whether the man, who looked to be in his mid-70s, succeeded in having his driving license renewed, but the scene does reflect one aspect of super-aged Japan.
According to statistics compiled by the National Police Agency, there are about 450 fatal traffic accidents caused by drivers aged 75 or older every year. In January, an 85-year-old man hit two high school students cycling along the side of a road in Gunma Prefecture. One of the students later died. The driver, who was arrested, said: “I was in an accident before I knew it.”
As public transportation systems are lacking in rural areas like Gunma Prefecture, even elderly people have no choice but to drive cars to get around. Self-driving technology could improve this situation in the near future, but it won’t solve all the problems.
The NPA is encouraging elderly people to renounce their driving licenses. However, the response has been slow, even in urban areas. For those who declined to renounce theirs, a driving license is more than what it seems. Some say, “Losing my license would be something like losing my arms and legs.”
I have declared to my wife that I will renounce my license when I turn 70. But even now, I am not so confident I’ll be able to do it when the time comes.