Japan is set to newly oblige elderly drivers with past records of traffic offenses to have their driving skills tested when they renew their licenses, amid a rise in fatal car accidents caused by senior citizens, government officials said Thursday.
The National Police Agency aims to submit a bill to revise the road traffic law to a parliamentary session next year to bring in the system, in which elderly drivers will have to show they are fit to be behind the wheel on a test course at sites such as driving schools.
Drivers aged 71 or older are required to renew their licenses every three years.
The test will check the ability to stop, turn and do other basic moves smoothly. Successful applicants will then be required to take cognitive function tests. Those who fail can try again as many times as needed.
The agency is still mulling whether the new skills tests should be required for those aged 75 and above or 80 and above, the officials said.
Drivers who perform less well on the test may still be eligible for a new license the NPA will introduce which only allows drivers to operate cars equipped with advanced road safety features such as a brake to prevent sudden acceleration.
The new license will also be available for other drivers of all age groups who are not fully confident in their driving skills. The NPA will decide which vehicles meet the requirements of what are termed "safety support cars" -- vehicles with advanced technologies, including autonomous brakes that prevent crashes, installed.
As of late 2018, the rapidly graying country had 5.64 million driving license holders aged 75 and over, and the number is expected to reach 7.17 million in 2023. In 2018, fatal accidents caused by drivers 75 years old or above increased 42 from the previous year to 460.
Around 20 percent of the drivers aged 75 or above violated traffic rules over the past three years. The agency plans to decide which offenses will make drivers subject to the skills test.
In April this year, an 88-year-old former senior bureaucrat caused a fatal accident in Tokyo's Ikebukuro district, running over a toddler and her mother.
As well as prompting many elderly Japanese to surrender their driver's licenses for fear of causing accidents, the incident led the agency to work on the traffic law revisions.
In a survey conducted by an NPA panel in September on 2,000 people from their teens to their 70s, 84.8 percent said they think elderly drivers are dangerous and 79.7 percent called for reviewing Japan's driving license system.
A separate NPA survey on 2,035 drivers aged 69 or older showed 78.3 percent similarly think elderly drivers are dangerous, but only 46.0 percent called for a review of the license system.