Up to 60,000 elderly Japanese drivers suspected of having dementia as screening laws tighten

With fatal accidents involving senior citizens becoming a major social issue, traffic laws were revised to require old people to see doctors if the disease is suspected

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 June, 2018, 4:53pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 June, 2018, 9:30pm

About 60,000 Japanese drivers aged 75 and over were judged as possibly suffering dementia during the process of renewing their licences in the first year of stricter screening for the disease, the police said on Thursday.

The revised road traffic law requiring elderly drivers to see doctors if dementia is suspected in preliminary screening took effect on March 12 last year with fatal accidents involving senior citizens becoming a major social issue in the face of a rapidly ageing population.

Police said in a report that 2,105,477 holders of driver’s licences took cognitive function tests through the end of March this year, and 57,099 of them were suspected of having dementia.

A total of 1,892 had their licences suspended or nullified, up about three-fold from 597 in 2016. A further 16,115 meanwhile gave up their licences, while 4,517 people stopped their renewal procedure and their licences became null and void.

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Some 1,515 others are still in the middle of their renewal procedures, suggesting the number of suspensions and nullifications will grow.

Before the change in the law, doctor’s diagnoses were encouraged but not mandatory when dementia was suspected in cognitive tests.

The number of traffic deaths in Japan has been on the decline, dropping to a record low of 3,694 in 2017. But serious accidents caused by elderly drivers have continued to attract national attention, particularly as the country is expected to have more drivers aged 75 and over in coming years.

Last month, a 90-year-old woman was arrested after allegedly running a red light and hitting four pedestrians southwest of Tokyo, killing one of them.

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The latest police tally showed 13,063 drivers were allowed to continue driving after seeing doctors, but 9,563 of them were required to submit another medical exam report in six months as their cognitive functions were diagnosed as deteriorating.

Separately, the number of people feared to be experiencing a deterioration in their cognitive functions but who were not required to have a medical examination totalled 553,810, and 1,494,568 showed no signs of cognitive problems.