Prevent elderly car accidents by making use of vehicle safety features

The Yomiuri ShimbunCar accidents caused by elderly drivers have occurred often. The situation cannot be overlooked. Vehicles equipped with safety features must spread while the issuance of a restricted driver’s license must be studied hastily.

The government has started studying a plan to establish a driver’s license system for senior citizens. It envisions a type of driver’s license that allows the holder to drive only safety-enhanced vehicles equipped with automatic brakes and acceleration control devices that prevent the mistaken use of the accelerator instead of the brakes. The government will draw a conclusion on the plan before the end of the current fiscal year, ending next March.

A cognitive function test is currently mandatory for people 75 or older when they apply for renewal of their driver’s license. If the applicant is found to suffer from dementia, the license is revoked. But half of those who caused fatal road traffic accidents have had no problem with their cognitive functions. This obviously indicates that the current system is not adequate to deal with the situation.

Driver errors are noticeably blamed for road traffic accidents caused by the elderly. They account for 30 percent of fatal accidents caused by drivers 75 or older. There are more cases of mistakenly stepping on the accelerator instead of the brakes among people in that age bracket than in other age brackets.

If elderly people’s decline in physical ability and judgment can be made up for by such technologies as automatic brakes, it can be expected to lead to fewer accidents.

In the case of a restricted driver’s license being introduced, a focal point will be what kinds of people will be subject to the system. There are big differences among individuals in the degree of decline in their abilities caused by aging. So it would not be appropriate to draw a line by age uniformly.

Set applicable criteria

The government will study also introducing an actual vehicle test to measure driving skills. The test is aimed at confirming, among others, whether the drivers erroneously step on the accelerator and the brake and whether cars stray into the opposite lane. A plan is emerging to ask those failing the test to switch to a restricted driver’s license.

Such actual vehicle tests have been introduced overseas. In some Australian states, drivers 85 or older are obliged to take the test once every two years. Licenses can be taken away from those who fail the test. Some countries restrict the places and time zones in which the elderly are allowed to drive.

In regard to the actual vehicle test, it is necessary to set criteria to be checked according to the type of accidents that are likely to be caused by elderly drivers as well as the threshold for passing the test. Arrangement of test sites will also be a task to tackle.

The number of new cars equipped with automatic brakes and acceleration control devices has been increasing, but the accuracy of detecting obstacles differs depending on the maker, as does the distance it takes for the car to stop from the time the brakes start operating. It is indispensable to work out uniform standards on safety-enhanced vehicles that can be driven with a restricted driver’s license.

Automakers, for their part, are called on to make further efforts to conduct technological development of vehicles equipped with safety features and lower production costs for such cars.

There are more than 5.6 million driver’s license holders 75 or older. The number of people voluntarily giving up their driver’s licenses has been increasing. But in regional areas where few public transportation means are available, many residents consider cars as indispensable to their daily lives.

The National Police Agency will shortly conduct a questionnaire regarding a driver’s license system for the elderly. It is imperative to aim for an institutional design that is persuasive to as many people as possible.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 8, 2019)Speech


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