The Mainichi answers some common questions readers may have about preventing traffic accidents by elderly drivers.
Question: Is the number of traffic accidents involving elderly drivers increasing?
Answer: According to the National Police Agency (NPA), there were 457 cases of death caused by drivers aged 75 and over in 2005, and 458 such cases in 2015. Over this 10-year period, the number of cases has been within the 400 to 500 range each year, and the trend has remained virtually flat.
Q: But these accidents seem to be a lot more noticeable these days, don't they?
A: This is because the overall number of traffic deaths has decreased. There were 6,165 traffic deaths in 2005, and 3,585 cases in 2015. The proportion of deaths caused by elderly drivers, compared to all cases, has become larger. The percentage of fatalities caused by drivers aged 75 and over has risen from 7.4 percent to 12.8 percent in 10 years.
Q: Does the rise in the number of elderly drivers have anything to do with that?
A: The number of elderly drivers has increased in line with Japan's aging society. In 2005 the number of driver's license holders aged 75 and over was 2,360,000 -- and in 2015 the number was 4,780,000. On the other hand, the number of traffic deaths per 10,000 among driver's license holders aged 75 or over dropped from 19.3 cases to 9.6 cases over the 10-year period. The percentage of accidents caused by elderly drivers -- among the total elderly driver population -- is decreasing, but the number of elderly drivers has increased rapidly.
Q: Is there a way to vastly reduce the number of accidents?
A: Following the spate of recent accidents, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo directed new measures to be considered. The police have started placing emphasis on measures relating to dementia in order to avert accidents. In March this year, the Road Traffic Act will be made stricter, and in cases where dementia is diagnosed, driver's licenses will be revoked.
Devices such as automatic brakes and alarms that sound whenever the accelerator or brake is pressed incorrectly are being developed. However, these devices have not been very successful, and the police and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism are considering more effective methods.