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Japan to start giving some seniors driving tests before license renewal

The entrance to Central Government Building No. 2, which houses the National Police Agency, is seen in this file photo taken in Tokyo in 2019. (Mainichi/Kazuo Motohashi)

TOKYO -- A new system where certain people aged 75 or over will have to take a driving test when they renew their driver's licenses is scheduled to start next May, Japan's National Police Agency (NPA) has announced.

    The NPA also plans to start a limited license that allows people to drive only safe driving support vehicles that are less likely to cause accidents, the agency said in the Nov. 4 announcement.

    These initiatives, both scheduled to start on May 13, 2022, were included in the revised Road Traffic Act enacted by the ordinary Diet session in 2020. The final decision will be made after collecting public opinion on the matter.

    In Japan, driver's licenses typically expire a month after the holder's birthday in the license renewal year. To reduce accidents involving elderly drivers, the driving skills test will be conducted on senior citizens who are 75 years old and above and who have committed any of 11 types of violation in the three years plus 160 days prior to their license renewal birthday. These include ignoring a traffic light, speeding, and obstructing pedestrians crossing a street.

    The new system will apply to seniors with license renewal birthdays on or after Oct. 12, 2022.

    If the drivers do not pass the test, they will not be able to renew their licenses. They can take or retake the exam any time in the six months leading up to end of the license renewal period.

    The limited license for safe driving support vehicles will be issued based on the driver's request. This license can be issued to drivers of any age who are anxious about driving, not just the elderly who are hesitant to give up their licenses because of their age as they need to stay behind the wheel for shopping and other essentials.

    The special license is set to be valid for cars with braking systems that engage automatically when the car detects potential danger, and devices that prevent sudden acceleration when the driver steps on the gas pedal by mistake. The NPA will announce by the end of this year which vehicles with which functions will be included.

    In addition, on May 13, 2022, the NPA will begin easing the qualifications for the class 2 driver's license required to drive cabs and buses from "21 years old or older with a regular driver's license for three years or more" to "19 years old or older with a regular driver's license for one year or more" as long as special training is completed. This will be implemented in response to requests from the industry to solve driver shortages.

    (Japanese original by Naritake Machida, Tokyo City News Department)

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