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Senior Drivers Facing New Challenges In Japan

Jun 30, 2018 by Comfort Keepers of San Marcos

The oldest population in the world resides in Japan, with over a quarter of its inhabitants constitute as seniors (65 years or older). Compared to 1 in 16 people in the U.S. being 75 or older, in Japan, it’s 1 in 6!

Unfortunately, new data shows that with this aging population comes increasing traffic accidents. Whereas most fatalities on the road typically occur from younger drivers (16 – 24 years old), last year, those over 75 in Japan caused twice as many as the prior group. Many of the seniors involved in these tragic accidents are later found to have Alzheimer’s, or some other form of dementia.

This is why Japan is working to discourage and restrict older drivers from getting behind the wheel – though, there are many who disagree with these actions.

Many Want Stricter Laws

Regulations were enacted back in 2009 that stated drivers 75 or older must take a cognitive exam when going to renew their licenses (approximately every three years). Additionally, a new traffic law was enacted in early 2017 that sends those who do poorly on the exam to a doctor for further examination. If the doctor finds they have dementia, the police can actually take away their license.

In addition to licenses being stripped from seniors who aren’t deemed mentally capable to drive any longer, many older drivers are voluntarily giving up their right to drive. Over 405,000 seniors gave up their licenses just last year for fear of their own driving abilities.

Businesses are providing incentives to seniors to stop driving in hopes of making the roads safer by offering discounts and coupons to products and services, including public transit.

However, many also think that the focus of these laws is too centered on mental capabilities, when physical ones can be just as – if not more – important. Loss of vision, hearing, and weakened motor skills/reflexes can greatly impact a person’s driving abilities, so others are wishing for these laws to be more inclusive to these dangers in older drivers as well.

Others Aren’t So Sure

On the other hand, think about what your life would be like if you weren’t able to drive. How would you rate your quality of life, having to ask for rides all of the time or being stuck helplessly in one place?

Those that oppose these laws targeting older drivers are worried about just this. They think there needs to be a balance between potential harms a senior driver might cause on the road, versus how their quality of life will be affected.

Not only that, but unlike the larger Japanese cities that are full of public transit options, rural Japanese towns have little to no ways for license-less seniors to get around. Adult children also tend to live in these bigger towns for job opportunity, so they cannot assist their older parents/relatives, either.

And, on top of the fewer public transit methods in rural areas, the country’s shrinking population has caused businesses to move to busier cities, meaning seniors in smaller towns have to commute just to go get some milk or rice.

Those opposing these traffic laws also are upset that those with dementia are being targeted, as a diagnosis does not make them a different person. Many still may be able to drive, at least for a while longer before their condition does any serious harm. Their alternative idea is to install extra infrastructure to help protect senior drivers and prevent accidents, such as guardrails near schools and businesses, or on major roads.

The Power of Driving

Driving gives us the independence of travel. Even simply having the ability to drive to the next block over to get more eggs can help seniors maintain the quality of life they want to live.

Many Japanese residents feel targeted, and worry that these laws will strip them of not only their independence, but also of protection for their desired lifestyles. Having the freedom to drive can unarguably affect anyone’s emotional wellbeing.

There’s no right answer on what to do in terms of older senior drivers – as can be seen, it’s quite the toss-up. What side do you take on the debate?

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