Japan’s elderly keep driving, but this video shows why the government wants them to stop

Consider a bike instead?
Consider a bike instead?
Image: Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon
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A video of an elderly Japanese woman driving nonchalantly on a pavement that’s making the rounds on social media is a reminder of why the government sees old drivers as such a menace.

The clip was posted to Twitter yesterday (Dec. 26), with the location later identified (link in Japanese) as Nobeoka, a city in Miyazaki prefecture on the island of Kyushu. As the woman drives along the pavement, the men filming her can be heard laughing and crying out, “Grandma! Grandma!”

Many of the comments said that the video was “scary,” echoing the Japanese government’s own growing concerns over elderly drivers in the rapidly graying country. The number of fatal traffic accidents is on the decline overall in Japan, but the number of incidents involving elderly drivers remains high.

Japanese police said the rate of fatal accidents attributed to drivers over 75 stood at 7.7 per 100,000 license holders in 2017, more than double the number for those below 75.  In May, a 90-year-old woman was arrested after she ran a red light and hit four pedestrians, killing one.

The government has introduced measures to deter the elderly from driving, such as asking people to voluntarily return their licenses. The number of those doing so increased sharply last year, after a new cognitive test was introduced for drivers above 75. This year, more than 60,000 people (subscription) aged 75 or above applying to renew their license were judged to possibly suffer from dementia. Aichi prefecture has even enticed the elderly to give up their licenses by offering discounts on funeral services and noodles.

“It’s easy to talk about giving up your driving license, but not having a car makes living in the countryside impossible,” said one Twitter user (link in Japanese) in response to the video.

It’d be tough to make do without a car outside of a major city in Japan, particularly in rural areas where bus services are irregular or non-existent—a problem that’s getting worse as more bus routes have to be cut amid a shortage of bus drivers (link in Japanese). Some towns are testing self-driving buses in rural areas to allow old people to get around without driving.