The government probably does realize they aren’t fooling anyone with this.

If you’ve been following the news in Japan in recent weeks you will no doubt have heard several stories about elderly drivers crashing into something. More often than not these stories are tragic, like the young couple who were killed by an 83-year-old woman while they were walking along a sidewalk. Sometimes, they’re just bizarre, like the man in his 80s who drove through the window of a Tokyo area FamilyMart, injuring two people before asking to buy cigarettes.

Whatever the nature, these incidents appear to be on the rise all over Japan.

“It seems like the elderly have always been involved in accidents, but recently they seem more fatal. I don’t know if they were just not being picked up before or if this is actually an increasing trend.”

According to Fuji News Network, the overall number of traffic accidents in Tokyo have been on the decline since 2005. However, accidents involving elderly drivers have been steadily increasing over the same period. So, this doesn’t appear to be a case of trendy reporting, but rather a serious problem.

In many of the reported incidents, the drivers are said to have mistaken the brake and accelerator pedals, or have no recollection of their accident, leading many to believe dementia is the root of the problem. Japan currently tests senior citizen drivers for dementia regularly, but with the increasing population of seniors and potential for mental illness to set in at any time, this is far from an air-tight solution.

Elsewhere, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police and other departments across Japan have taken a different approach and are asking elderly drivers to straight up surrender their licenses. In exchange, they are offering a “Driving Graduation Certificate” to honor their many years behind the wheel.

It’s probably a good thing the police are handling this because if I were a senior and someone asked me if I wanted to “graduate from driving” my gut-reaction would probably be to smack that person upside the head.

Aside from being a condescending document, the Driver’s Graduation Certificate, which looks very similar to a regular driver’s license, can be used to get discounts at businesses in various areas and will also entitle the holder to a 50 percent discount on buses and monorails as well as a 10 percent discount on taxis.

▼ Hopefully the real ones don’t have cartoon dogs.

You can’t argue with discounts, but that likely isn’t enough for many elderly drivers who rely on cars to get them to the hospital or supermarket. Even with the convenience of Japanese public transportation, that walk to the station can be brutal during times of poor weather and/or health.

The government is vowing to take action, but their resources are limited and by the time they come up with an effective plan, we will probably have already entered the age of driverless cars. And surely even the Metro Police realize the Driver’s Graduation program is a weak gesture by itself.

The only people capable of ensuring elderly drivers are safe behind the wheel are those around them. If I was a senior and my four-year-old granddaughter asked me to “graduate from driving” rather than an official, I think I would give it a lot more thought. And if my other relatives or neighbors would help out with my transportation needs, I wouldn’t have to rely on my own automobile.

Here’s how one family dealt with a Driver’s Graduation as told through the tweets of Satomi Inoue:

▼ “The family of a man with dementia held a ‘Driver’s Graduation Ceremony’ for him. They decorated the alcove and took a photo of his grandson presenting him with a gift and a certificate of appreciation saying, ‘Grandpa, thank you for the trouble of driving for so long.’ They sold the car, got a bicycle and put a bench in the driveway for chatting with neighbors. Whenever he asked ‘What happened to my car?’ his wife pointed at the photo they took and he understood. It was helpful.”

A writer for the Japanese web magazine Buzzmag summed it up nicely saying, “The support of family and friends is indispensable for ‘driving graduation’ to work.” And I would add that with the support of family and friends “driving graduation” is unnecessary.

Source: Naver Matome, Buzzmag, FNN NEws (Japanese) Japan Today, Tokyo Reporter (English)
Top Image: Yamagata Prefectural Government
Insert Images: Tokyo Metropolitan Police, Hokkaido Prefectural Police