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Families struggle with elderly drivers

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Yomiuri Shimbun The number of elderly people giving up their driver’s licenses has spiked since the Ikebukuro incident (see below) in which an elderly driver struck and killed two people in Tokyo last month, according to the Metropolitan Police Department.

The pace of voluntary returns since the end of the Golden Week holiday period is reported to be double that of the previous year. Nevertheless, many families agonize over how to encourage elderly parents to surrender their driver’s licenses.

According to the MPD, slightly fewer than 1,000 drivers gave up their licenses in Tokyo during the week (April 14-19) that the April 19 accident occurred. The next week, from April 21-26, this figure rose by 20 percent to about 1,200 people.

Over May 7-10, the four days after Golden Week, about 1,600 people gave up their licenses, much more than usual.

“A lot of people were probably pressured by their families [to give up their licenses] during the holiday period,” a senior police officer said.

A 76-year-old man from Nishitokyo, Tokyo, was convinced by his family and police officers to voluntarily give up his driver’s license. His memory has deteriorated over the last several years, and he has started mistaking a TV remote control for a calculator. He also scratched his vehicle.

His 75-year-old wife and children who live nearby encouraged him to turn in his license, but he refused to listen.

A cognitive function test given when he renewed his license did not show any problems, so he wanted to continue driving. However, his family had him examined by a doctor, who diagnosed him with dementia. The family then took the extreme step of taking away the man’s car keys, as he had continued to go on drives with his grandchild. Infuriated, the man became violent with his wife, so the family consulted the MPD and eventually got him to give up his license.

“It took a lot of work to convince my father without damaging his pride. But I really didn’t want him to cause an accident,” said his oldest daughter, 49.

Nationwide, about 5.64 million people aged 75 or older had driver’s licenses as of the end of last year, according to the National Police Agency. Prefectural police departments including those in Chiba, Toyama and Gifu have introduced systems that allow “proxies” to return driver’s licenses. These can be family members, nursing care facility staff or others.

In Chiba Prefecture, 203 drivers, including the elderly, had their licenses returned through proxies from the time the system was introduced in September last year through the end of April.

However, many people in regional areas need to drive to shop, go to the doctor and otherwise carry out their lives.

The NPA is considering a restricted driver’s license that would allow elderly people to drive vehicles with special safety features, such as automatic brakes and equipment to prevent drivers from mistaking the accelerator pedal for the brake pedal.

Son regrets not insisting

“I didn’t strongly press her to give up [her driver’s license]. I am deeply sorry [to the victims],” said the oldest son of a 91-year-old woman after she was sentenced last Friday for killing one person and injuring three others in a traffic accident in Chigasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, on May 28 last year.

The woman ran a red light, striking a pedestrian and bicyclists with her vehicle. She was given a three-year prison sentence suspended for five years for violating the law on driving resulting in death or injury.

The woman had had a driver’s license since 1958. She used her vehicle for shopping and for visits to an orthopedic surgeon. Two months before the accident, she passed a cognitive function test when renewing her license.

Due to this, and because she had a “gold” license indicating a clean driving record, her son did not pressure her to give up her license, he said.

“If she hadn’t renewed her license, the accident wouldn’t have happened. I regret it,” he said at the court.

■ Ikebukuro incident

In the early afternoon of April 19, an 87-year-old man ran a red light in the Higashi-Ikebukuro district of Toshima Ward, Tokyo, driving into people, including pedestrians on a crosswalk. The driver is the former head of the Industrial Science and Technology Agency, which was part of the now-defunct International Trade and Industry Ministry. Two people were killed in the incident — a 31-year-old housewife who lived nearby and her 3-year-old daughter. Ten people ranged in age from 2 to their 90s suffered mild to severe injuries, including the driver. The Metropolitan Police Department has said it plans to wait until the driver recovers before questioning him. Speech

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