"I'd been warning my elderly father, 'It's not only your problem. As the first-born son, if you cause an accident, it becomes my responsibility.'
"I was already concerned after he came home with the outside rear-view mirror smashed up, and I'd been nagging him to quit. But he kept ignoring me, and I was thinking perhaps the only way to stop him for good would be to let the air of his tires."
The headline in Shukan Gendai (Feb 3) asks, "Elderly drivers: Are you determined to keep operating your vehicle, even if it means spending time in prison past the age of 80?"
The speaker is the son of Maebashi City resident Kiyokatsu Kawabata, age 85. On Jan 9, Kawabata's car crossed the center line on a country road and struck a car coming towards him from the opposite direction, after which he careened off the road, running down two high school girls who were en route to their matriculation ceremony. Several weeks later, both remained hospitalized with severe injuries.
Viewing a dashboard cam video of the accident, it appeared that Kawabata had confused the brake and accelerator pedals.
Kawabata senior was arrested on suspicion of negligent driving resulting in injury, which if found guilty provides for up to seven years imprisonment or a fine of up to 1 million yen. Masato Takahashi, an attorney, believes the severity of the two victims' injuries makes it likely that Kawabata will indeed serve time, "Perhaps three years or more," he told the magazine.
"My father operated a vehicle maintenance facility, and was very obstinate about motor vehicles in general," the aforementioned son continued. "My mother is 80 years old, but several years ago I was able to talk her into giving up her license.
"The police asked me if he suffered from senile dementia, but that's not a disease for which you can be entirely certain, and all I could tell them was I didn't think he had it."
In Japan, people who wish to renew their driver's license past age 75 are required to be tested for dementia, but nonetheless their numbers continue to increase. The figure reached 5.13 million in 2016. The same year, according to National Police Agency statistics, the number of people age 75 and over who voluntarily turned in their licenses was 162,000. That figure reached 232,000 in 2017, showing that authorities' efforts to persuade the elderly to give up driving is making a modicum of progress.
One-time winner of the Naoki Prize literary award and presently age 69, Ichiriki Yamamoto voluntarily gave up his driver's license after he turned 60. Why?
"A main reason was concerns over the deterioration of my eyesight," Yamamoto is quoted as saying. "The optometrist where I buy my eyeglasses said that they could give me a pair that would make it possible to pass the driving test, but the condition of my eyes would still carry risks.
"I felt that should I have a serious driving accident it would spoil everything I've accomplished up to now. The one reason I hesitated was that I love to go touring on a large-displacement motorcycle -- I went through a lot of trouble to obtain the special license for it when I was 46 -- and I had so many memories of the wonderful trips I took. But I realized a serious accident would spoil those memories too."
A native of Kochi Prefecture, Yamamoto told his audience during a regional lecture tour that he had given up his license upon turning 60. Now I go around on one of those bicycles with an electric assist motor. It's not a bad ride at all."
In the aging process, even if a person doesn't develop dementia, one still faces decline of vision, hearing and physical capability," says Takuji Nakamura, a specialist in traffic systems who serves as an advisor to an NPO whose Japanese name translates as The Research Group for Supporting Safe Driving by the Elderly (Koreisha Anzen Unten Shien Kenkyukai). "The ability to make spontaneous decisions slows. Many drivers already know from common sense to avoid driving on roads made slippery from the rain, or when the daylight begins to fade. Each one of these conditions moves them a step closer to the decision to hand in their driver's license."
The son of Kiyokatsu Kawabata quoted at the beginning of this article told Shukan Gendai, "Things have been really rough for me too. I don't know what to do. On the one hand I feel like going to visit the two victims at the hospital. But even if I do, I'm not sure what I can say to them."© Japan Today