Elderly drivers in Japan will only be permitted to drive vehicles fitted with advanced automatic braking systems after a series of accidents involving children, according to proposals announced in Tokyo on Tuesday.
The measure is among a series of recommendations put forward by the government to stem the recent rash of accidents apparently caused by older drivers mistaking the accelerator for the brake and ploughing into pedestrians.
Under the plan, older drivers will only be granted a licence to drive a car that is fitted with sensors that detect obstacles close to the vehicle.
In the event that the driver suddenly hits the accelerator, the system will assume that the driver has made an error and automatically apply the brakes.
The government is also looking into banning vehicles from areas around schools, encouraging the use of car-sharing services, improving public transport for the elderly and introducing autonomous vehicles.
In addition, the authorities have detailed plans for a “kids guard project”, under which retired police officers and other community leaders will volunteer to monitor children on their way to and from school.
The proposals were approved at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday and the transport ministry has been charged with drawing up the details of the plan by the end of the year, although the government wants to implement some of the measures sooner.
Speaking after the meeting, Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, said, “We should not waste any time ensuring that children’s journeys to school are safe”.
The government has been forced to act after a number of accidents involving children.
In April, 87-year-old Kozo Iizuka lost control of his car in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo and drove through red lights and pedestrian crossings, killing a woman and her daughter on a bicycle.
Within days, a 74-year-old woman was arrested in Fukuoka Prefecture, southern Japan, after she ran down two elementary school children, leaving them requiring hospital treatment.
The total number of traffic deaths hit a record low for a second consecutive year in 2018, according to the National Police Agency, with 3,532 road deaths during the year, down 162 on the previous year.
The number of fatal accidents caused by people aged 75 or older increased during the year, however, up by 42 cases to 460.
Police statistics indicate that the biggest single cause given for an accident occurring was the elderly driver becoming “confused” between the vehicle’s pedals.
Revisions to Japan’s Road Traffic Law went into effect in 2016 and require anyone over the age of 75 to obtain a certificate of competence to drive when they renew their driving licence every three years.
The tests are designed to identify drivers whose memory or judgement are impaired, while any older driver involved in an accident is also required to undergo the test.
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